International Navies balance training and environmental concerns

Commodore Nigel Greenwood
Commodore Nigel Greenwood

By Leland Kim - bio | email

PEARL HARBOR (KHNL) - The Rim of the Pacific exercises -- or RIMPAC -- kicks into high gear. Starting Tuesday, countries from North America, Asia, Australia and Europe start the operational phase, going out into the ocean for live fire exercises. But what impact, if any, will this have on ocean life?

Starting tomorrow, about 35 ships will do their training behind me, several miles off of Oahu. They say they're balancing training with protecting ocean life.

The USS Kitty Hawk sits perched at Pearl Harbor, getting ready to pounce. The thousand-foot long ship is one of the stars of RIMPAC's operational phase. At the helm is Commodore Nigel Greenwood, the highest ranking Canadian officer at RIMPAC.

"I'll be in charge of the frigate, destroyers and cruisers that are defending Kitty Hawk," said Greenwood.

Although more than half of the military at RIMPAC are from the U.S., Canada has 850 members here.

"It provides us that much larger context and scenario that we can interact with our friends and build maritime partnerships that enable us to support each other overseas," said Greenwood.

Nearly three dozen ships from ten different countries will navigate Hawaiian waters for the next three weeks. They have completed an extensive environmental impact statement, and say they are committed to protecting ocean life.

"We need to be aware and employ some of the precautionary principles to make sure we do everything possible to mitigate and minimize any kind of possible negative action," said Greenwood.

Underwater sonar is an important nautical tool to protect a ship. But some wonder if it harms ocean life, so the navies have protocol in place to turn down sonar if marine mammals are sighted, and even turn them off if necessary.

"But what we'll do before that is make sure that in the area that we're operating, we don't have any marine mammals and do that check before we actually operate," said Greenwood.

So the goal at RIMPAC is to train effectively while doing little damage to the environment.

"That's a great opportunity for us," said Greenwood. "It all speaks towards that maritime partnership that we want to built and enhance."

Pacific Whale Foundation officials say they are happy RIMPAC has taken considerable steps to minimize damage to ocean life. But, they add, they are still a bit concerned. RIMPAC ends on July 28.