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WASHINGTON, January 12 (Itar-Tass) — Strong winds and current in the Bering Sea have impeding movement of the Russian tanker Renda in the ice to Nome, Alaska, where it is to deliver 5,000 tonnes of fuel. US Coast Guard spokeswoman Veronica Colbath told reporters that the tanker and the American icebreaker Healy on Wednesday were at a distance of 95 nautical miles from Nome.
During the day they managed to move forward only 11 kilometres in difficult ice conditions. According to Colbath, the Healy is the only US Coast Guard icebreaker, capable of making 18 kilometres per day in 1.2-metre thick ice. But now they also have to deal with strong winds and currents, she said, adding that air temperature in the ·· vessels’ sailing area are dropping to minus 50 degrees Celsius. The Renda often stops because the path made by the Healy is quickly covered by ice again, and then the icebreaker returns and helps the tanker to move forward.
According to the US Coast Guard, if weather conditions do not change for the better, the two vessels will reach Nome in 10 - 14 days. It is an unusual operation for the USCG, said Colbath. We have never had a mid-winter 300 nautical miles’ trip to Nome ... But for us it is a great opportunity to learn what the Healy is capable of and gain navigation experience in such ice conditions. Colbath said that the fact that the coordination of actions is carried out with several agencies at a time and “with Russians through interpreters” creates certain difficulties. But we have one goal - to deliver the urgently needed fuel to Nome residents, she added.
The icebreaker is creating a path for the 370-foot tanker in ice that is up to 3 feet thick. If successful, the shipment would mark the first time petroleum products have been delivered by sea to a Western Alaska community in winter, The Associated Press reported.
Jason Evans, chairman of Sitnasuak Native Corp., the company arranging the delivery, said the mission remains challenging. “I think there continues to be a lot of pressure on the ice, so when they break the ice it wants to immediately squeeze together, or the broken ice wants to shoot back into the hole they just made,” he said Tuesday, according to AP. Shifting ice, described as dynamic ice, has slowed the progress of the paired vessels. The ice tends to close in, cutting off the path between the two ships. When that happens, the icebreaker doubles back and makes a relief cut to take pressure off the tanker and open a pathway.
“I think they continue to do well with the circumstances,” Evans said. He said the tanker and the icebreaker were expected to go through a large section of thinner ice and then encounter thicker ice again near Nome.
The tanker is loaded with more than 1 million gallons of diesel and 300,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline. Without the delivery, Nome could run short of fuel before a barge delivery becomes possible in late spring.
The Coast Guard and the Alaska Department of Conservation are in Nome setting up a safety perimeter and preparing for offloading of the fuel, Evans said. The ship is equipped with a hose of more than a mile for transferring fuel in Nome, where ice near the port is about 2 feet thick, according to AP. “I think that is good because if they do have to kind of stop in the ice, the thick ice will hold these ships in place for a safer transfer,” Evans said.
Nome has a population of 3.5 thousand. It has a critical situation with fuel, because the autumn fuel delivery by American barges was disrupted by a heavy storm. The local authorities rejected the idea of airlifting ·· petroleum products, as this would result in gasoline and kerosene price hikes – by 3 to 4 US dollars per gallon (3.8 l). The idea of chartering a Russian tanker was considered the best way out.
It was necessary to obtain a special permit in Washington for this, as under the law of 1920, only vessels whose owners and operators are the US companies are allowed to deliver petroleum products to Alaska.
The Renda tanker belongs to the Russian Expert and Marine Surveyors' Corporation based in Vladivostok.