Ships taking fuel to Nome making 5 mph in thick ice

SUPPLY: Only 20 about miles made overnight

Associated PressJanuary 7, 2012 

A Russian tanker is inching through thick ice in the Bering Sea en route to delivering fuel to Nome. The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy is cutting a path for the 370-foot Renda, which is carrying more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel.

Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class David Mosley said the vessels were 170 miles south of Nome as of late Sunday morning. Mosley said the ships are able to travel only five miles an hour through ice up to two feet thick.

The Coast Guard initially estimated arrival time early Monday, but Mosley says it's difficult to predict an exact time because of challenges of navigating through ice.

Late Saturday afternoon the tanker carrying much-needed fuel for iced-in Nome was about 190 miles from its destination late Saturday afternoon and making slow but steady progress, a company official said

The city of about 3,500 people on the northwest Alaska coastline didn't get its last pre-winter fuel delivery because of a massive storm and could run out of crucial supplies before spring without the delivery. The 370-foot tanker was carrying more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel and was being shepherded through hundreds of miles of sea ice by the U.S. Coast Guard's only icebreaker.

"They're navigating through ice right now, taking a direct route for now," said Jason Evans, the CEO of Sitnasuak Native Corp., one of the companies undertaking the delivery. "They considered going through patches where there might be thinner ice, but determined that would have taken them on a longer route."

If the mission is successful, it will be the first time fuel has been delivered by sea to a Western Alaska community in winter.

The Russian tanker came upon ice about a foot thick very early Friday near Nunivak Island in the eastern Bering Sea, the Coast Guard said. The tanker is following the Healy, the Coast Guard's only functioning icebreaker -- a ship of special design with a reinforced hull made to move through ice.

"It's going basically as planned," Evans said.

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