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Russian tanker hits ice 300 miles from Nome

Mary Pemberton
The Russian tanker Renda transits through broken Bering Sea ice Jan. 9, 2012. The Coast Guard Cutter Healy is breaking ice and escorting the Renda to the remote village of Nome to deliver 1.3 million gallons of petroleum products to Nome residents.
U.S. Coast Guard photo
The Coast Guard Cutter Healy and the Renda are approximately 110 miles south of Nome when this image was made Jan. 9, 2012, and are expected to arrive in Nome in the near future.
U.S. Coast Guard photo
The Russian-flagged tanker Renda steams toward Nome, Alaska, through a path in the Bering Sea ice broken up by the Coast Guard Cutter Healy Jan. 6, 2012.
Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
A Coast Guard Cutter Healy crewmember takes a moment to watch the Russian-flagged tanker Renda steam through the ice in the North Bering Sea while the cutter crew escorts the tanker to Nome Jan. 6, 2012. The 420-foot Seattle-based Healy is the Coast Guard's newest and most technologically advanced polar icebreaker and is currently the service's only operational polar icebreaker.
Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The Coast Guard Cutter Healy crew breaks ice in the Bering Sea as the Russian-flagged tanker Renda, approximately 19 miles northwest of Nunivak Island, makes their way to Nome, Alaska, to deliver more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel to the city Jan. 6, 2012. The 420-foot Seattle-based Healy and tanker Renda are approximately 19 miles northwest of Nunivak Island. U.S. Coast Guard photo by cutter Healy.
U.S. Coast Guard
The Coast Guard Cutter Healy escorts the Russian-flagged tanker Renda 250 miles south of Nome Jan. 6, 2012. The vessels are transiting through ice up to five-feet thick in this area.
Photo courtesy Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis / U.S. Coast Guard
The Coast Guard Cutter Healy breaks ice around the Russian-flagged tanker Renda 250 miles south of Nome Jan. 6, 2012. The Healy is the Coast Guard's only currently operating polar icebreaker.
Photo courtesy Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis / U.S. Coast Guard
The Russian-flagged tanker Renda carrying more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel for the city of Nome steams through a path in the ice of the Bering Sea Jan. 6, 2012.
Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

A Russian tanker carrying fuel for an iced-in Alaska city that without a delivery could run out of crucial supplies before winter's end encountered ice early Friday in the eastern Bering Sea.

The ice was not a surprise. The 370-foot tanker Renda will have to go through more than 300 miles of sea ice to get to Nome, a city of about 3,500 people on the western Alaska coastline that did not get its last pre-winter fuel delivery because of a massive storm.

If the delivery of diesel fuel and unleaded gasoline is not made, the city likely will run short of fuel supplies before another barge delivery can be made in spring.

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

The Coast Guard said the Russian tanker came upon ice about a foot thick very early Friday near Nunivak Island, a large island in the eastern Bering Sea. 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.

The icebreaker should have no problem getting through the ice even if it becomes several feet thick, said Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class David Mosley.

"In the worst-case scenario, it might stop and back up and ram their way through the pressure ridges, where it gets really thick," he said.

The icebreaker is creating a path through the ice for the tanker.

The Renda left Russia in mid-December after the barge delivery of 1.6 million gallons of fuel failed and Nome became iced-in for the winter.

The tanker is carrying more than 1 million gallons of diesel fuel loaded in South Korea and 300,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline picked up in Dutch Harbor in southwestern Alaska.

Sitnasuak Native Corp., the company that eventually signed a contract with Vitus Marine LLC to have a tanker delivery, considered flying supplies to Nome but decided against that plan because of the cost and the possibility fuel prices could jump to $9 a gallon. The tanker delivery is expected to be more costly than by barge but not as expensive as air delivery.

The Native corporation is a major fuel supplier to the city, with between 800 and 1,000 customers including the hospital and schools.

"I think everything is going smoothly," Jason Evans, Sitnasuak's board chairman, said Friday afternoon.

The tanker is expected to arrive in Nome early Monday.

Webcam on Coast Guard icebreaker Healy
By MARY PEMBERTON
Associated Press