The first commander of the Coast Guard's only operational Arctic icebreaker is back on his ship to help get a Russian tanker through the frozen Bering Sea to Nome, the iced-in city on Alaska's western coastline awaiting a much-needed fuel delivery.
It is a homecoming of sorts for retired Coast Guard Rear Adm. Jeffrey Garrett, the Coast Guard Cutter Healy's first commanding officer, who retired in 2005. Garrett was placed on the icebreaker Wednesday afternoon to help in the mission to get the 370-foot tanker to Nome.
Garrett's arrival came a day after the icebreaker and the tanker were nearly stalled in the Bering Sea and still a long way from Nome, having fallen victim to unfavorable ice, winds and current.
Garrett completed three polar deployments to the Western Arctic and Antarctica, according to the Coast Guard website. He took command of the Healy upon the ship's delivery in November 1999. He later commanded the icebreaker through ice trials in the Eastern Arctic in early 2000. That was followed by a transit through the Northwest Passage to the icebreaker's homeport in Seattle.
Mark Smith, CEO of Vitus Marine LLC, the fuel supplier that arranged to have the Russian tanker and its crew deliver the fuel to Nome, said the company has a contract with Garrett to oversee the progression of the Renda to Nome. If need be, Garrett will be put on the tanker, he said.
"We were looking around for someone who could provide some expert opinion," Smith said.
The goal is to get the Renda as close to Nome as is safely possible, he said.
The icebreaker and the tanker were making steady progress on Thursday, the Coast Guard said. Spokesman David Mosley said the ships were reported to be 78 miles from Nome and were making decent headway because of favorable changes in the ice and wind. The tanker could arrive in Nome on Saturday, he said.
The tanker is loaded with 1.3 million gallons of fuel. The city missed its final pre-winter delivery of fuel by barge when a big storm swept the region last fall. Without the delivery, Nome could run short of fuel before a barge delivery becomes possible in late spring.