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Fuel tanker Renda, cutter Healy resume crawl to Nome

Alex DeMarban
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Benjamin Nocerini

A Russian tanker's historic effort to deliver fuel to Nome has slowed to a crawl.

A day after traveling more than 50 miles through thick ice, Monday, the 370-foot Renda was stopped in its tracks, advancing only about 50 feet Tuesday. The Renda and its escort, the U.S. Coast Guard’s ice-breaking cutter Healy, remain about 100 miles from their destination, the ice-locked town of Nome, which is awaiting about 1.3 million gallons of fuel.

“A tough day for all,” said Capt. Carter Whalen, president of Alaska Marine Pilots said in an email Tuesday afternoon. “Tough sledding. Healy is trying to free Renda right now from an ice ridge.”

When will the ship arrive?

"That's the question everyone wants a magic answer for," said Stacey Smith, manager with Vitus Marine, one of the companies that helped organized the delivery of fuel purchased in Asia and Dutch Harbor.

Ice, wind and other conditions are too unpredictable to guess the ship's ETA, she said.

"They've hit pretty thick ice, and now the winds have picked up where they are," Nome City Manager Josie Bahnke said before ducking into a debriefing with more than two dozens others who are monitoring ice thickness, tracking the ship's progress, and preparing for the delivery.  

Marine pilot Pete Garay, who is on the Renda and set to steer it toward Nome, said in an afternoon report to Alaska Dispatch that the ship has been stuck in ice, which can be more than 3 feet thick.  

"Unfortunately, as we watch, there has been no real "change up" in Renda's progress toward Nome since this morning," he said.

The Healy, the nation's only functioning icebreaker, has been helping carve a path through the sea ice. Tuesday afternoon, it went on an ice-scouting mission and reported that the Renda should encounter better conditions ahead.

Meanwhile in Nome, the Coast Guard announced plans to create a safety zone to ensure people aren't on the ice near shore when the Renda arrives.

“We are extremely concerned that the icebreaking vessels offshore may cause fractures in shore-fast ice near shore, which could potentially pose a serious safety risk to anyone who may be on the ice. We strongly encourage residents to remain on shore and avoid transiting on the ice as the ships transit in and out,” Coast Guard Safety Zone Coordinator Lt. Nicole Auth said in a written statement.

Residents should also remove gear from the shore-fast ice, such as crab pots and fishing equipment that might be lost, the Coast Guard advised. Using wooden stakes and surveyor's tape, the Coast Guard will also create safety zones during the fuel transfer to restrict people from getting too close to the tanker, fuel lines and other equipment.  

Nome residents are hatching plans to deliver baked goods to the ship and other items to welcome the crew. The city hopes to have embroidered Nome vests delivered to the ship, said city manager Bahnke. "We understand there's 22 people on board. They need to stay warm," she said.

Here's a link to the Healy's Aloft camera, which is updated regularly.   

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com