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Crews in Nome harbor prepare to offload fuel from tanker

Mary Pemberton
Nome residents make their way to and from the Coast Guard Cutter Healy over the frozen Bering Sea Wednesday, January 18, 2012. The Healy crew offered tours to any locals who walked, or rode snowmobiles, out to the icebreaker.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst / U.S. Coast Guard
Mayor Denise Michels, of Nome, Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, Coast Guard District 17 commander, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell brief the media during a press meeting here Jan. 15, 2012. Local, state and federal representatives, as well as subject matter experts, conducted interviews with the media regarding the delivery of over 1.3 million gallons of fuel to Nome by the tanker vessel Renda under the escort of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst
IN a photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, left, breaks through the Bering Sea ice 165 miles south of Nome, Alaska, on a return path to break ice up around the tanker Renda Jan. 8, 2012. The tanker Renda is carrying more than 1.3 million gallons of critically needed fuel to be delivered to Nome. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard/ Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally.)
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally /
Nome residents, young and old, seize an opportunity to get a closer look at a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter Wednesday, January 18, 2012. The crew of the Dolphin landed the aircraft on a beach near the city during a community event.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst / U.S. Coast Guard
The Coast Guard Cutter Healy breaks ice in the Nome Harbor Jan. 13, 2012. The Healy has been escorting and breaking ice for the Russian tanker Renda since Jan. 3, 2012, on its way to Nome to deliver 1.3 million gallons of fuel.
Charly Hengen / U.S. Coast Guard
A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak HC-130 Hercules aircrew conducts an overflight of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, right, as it escorts the tanker Renda from Dutch Harbor, Alaska to Nome Jan. 5, 2012. The Healy crew is scheduled to break a path in the ice near Nome so the Renda crew can deliver critical fuel supplies to the city. (AP Photo/US Coast Guard - Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally)
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally /
Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Fisher, an aviation survival technician from Air Station Kodiak, helps a young Nome resident into the cockpit of an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter Wednesday, January 18, 2012. The Dolphin was on display during the afternoon for Nome residents to tour.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst / U.S. Coast Guard
The Port of Nome is being prepared for the safe delivery of 1.3 million gallons of petroleum products Jan. 13, 2012. Coast Guardsmen, City of Nome and industry partners have been making preparations to ensure safe delivery of fuel.
Charly Hengen / U.S. Coast Guard
The Coast Guard icebreaker Healy leads the tanker Renda as they approach Nome Jan. 14, 2011, positioning to begin the transfer of more than 1 million gallons of fuel.
U.S. Coast Guard photo
Petty Officer 2nd Class Chad Griffin, an aviation mechanic from Air Station Kodiak, speaks to a young Nome resident about working aboard a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter Wednesday, January 18, 2012. The crew of the Dolphin landed the aircraft on a beach just outside the city of Nome during a community event.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst / U.S. Coast Guard
The Kigluaik Mountains are visible as the Coast Guard Cutter Healy breaks ice for the Russian tanker Renda near Nome Jan. 13, 2012. The Healy and crew are approximately seven nautical miles away from Nome.
Charly Hengen / U.S. Coast Guard
The Coast Guard icebreaker Healy and the tanker Renda stand off Nome's harbor Jan. 14, 2011, positioning to begin the transfer of more than 1 million gallons of fuel.
U.S. Coast Guard photo
Residents of Nome gather around a Coast Guard MH-60 Dolphin helicopter as the crew explains some of its specifications Wednesday, January 18, 2012. The crew landed the helicopter on a beach just outside of town to give locals a chance to familiarize themselves with the aircraft.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst / U.S. Coast Guard
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Tom Ostebo discusses the preparations that have been made for the planned fuel delivery to Nome with Alaska Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Tom Katkus and Cmdr. Scott Johnson at the Nome harbor fuel transfer site Jan. 13, 2012. Ostebo and Katkus toured the facilities and went on an overflight of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy and Russian tanker Renda.
Charly Hengen / U.S. Coast Guard
The Coast Guard icebreaker Healy leads the tanker Renda as they approach Nome Jan. 14, 2011, positioning to begin the transfer of more than 1 million gallons of fuel.
U.S. Coast Guard photo
A Coast Guard MH-60 Dolphin helicopter crew ascends from a mountain with the city of Nome in the background Monday, January 16, 2012. The crew of the Dolphin provided ice reconnaissance for the Coast Guard Cutter Healy during the escort of the tanker vessel Renda.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst / U.S. Coast Guard
The Russian tanker Renda transits toward Nome Jan. 13, 2012. The tanker is carrying 1.3 million gallons of petroleum products to deliver to Nome residents.
Charly Hengen / U.S. Coast Guard
The Coast Guard icebreaker Healy leads the tanker Renda as they approach Nome Jan. 14, 2011, positioning to begin the transfer of more than 1 million gallons of fuel.
U.S. Coast Guard photo
A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter sits near the top of a mountain just north of the city of Nome Monday January 16, 2012. The crew of the Dolphin was in Nome to assist during the escort of the tanker vessel Renda by the Coast Guard Cutter Healy.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst / U.S. Coast Guard
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Tom Ostebo, District 17 commander, along with Forces Valdez personnel assess the fuel transfer safety zone on snow machines in the Nome harbor Jan. 13, 2012. Forces Valdez personnel will enforce a 50 yard zone around fuel delivery hoses and 100 yards from the tanker Renda.
Charly Hengen / U.S. Coast Guard
Coast Guard Forces Valdez personnel train on snowmachines on the ice of Nome harbor January 12, 2012. The Forces Valdez personnel are preparing to enforce the safety zone during the fuel transfer from the Russian tanker Renda.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Charly Hengen / U.S. Coast Guard
Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Lutz, an aviation electrical technician from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, leans out the door of an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter to inspect landing gear as the aircraft descends onto the snow Monday, January 16, 2012. The landing was one of many conducted to familiarize the crew with snow and ice operations.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst / U.S. Coast Guard
In this Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012 photo, Greg Walker of UAF prepares an Aeryon Scout unmanned aerial vehicle at the Nome causeway.
Charly Hengen / US Coast Guard
Two fuel transfer hoses run side-by-side from the tanker vessel Renda to the Nome harbor Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. The hoses began transferring more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel from the tanker to the town.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst / U.S. Coast Guard
The Coast Guard Cutter Healy, right, approaches the Russian-flagged tanker Renda while breaking ice around the vessel 97 miles south of Nome, Alaska, Jan. 10, 2012. The two vessels departed Dutch Harbor for Nome on Jan. 3, 2012, to deliver more than 1.3 million gallons of petroleum products. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis)
Sara Francis / US Coast Guard / AP2012
The tanker vessel Renda lays just offshore of Nome with two fuel transfer hoses running to a causeway in the Nome harbor Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. After being escorted through the ice by the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the Renda began delivering more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel later in the day.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst / U.S. Coast Guard
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. The Renda is carrying more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel to deliver to the city of Nome. U.S. Coast Guard photo by cutter Healy.
U.S. Coast Guard
Personnel from Bonanza Fuel attach a fuel hose to the shoreside transfer connection at the Nome harbor Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 in Nome.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst / 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 crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy makes a pass by the tanker vessel Renda while freeing the tanker from the ice Jan. 20, 2012. The two vessels arrived just off the coast of Nome Jan. 12, 2012 for the Renda to transfer fuel to the city.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst / U.S. Coast Guard
Coast Guard safety inspectors and industry counterparts work with tanker vessel Renda crew members, preparing hoses for pressure tests on Monday, January 16, 2012 off Nome.
Petty Officer Eric J. Chandler / 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. U.S. Coast Guard photo by cutter Healy.
U.S. Coast Guard
Coast Guard Cutter Healy remains offshore as tanker vessel Renda's transfer of 1.3 million gallons of fuel nears completion on Wednesday, January 18, 2012. Healy has been escorting and breaking ice for Renda since January 3, 2012, and will soon begin breaking more than 300 miles of ice for the return trip.
Petty Officer Eric J. Chandler / U.S.Coast Guard
Fuel hoses bridge the 1200-yard gap between the tanker vessel Renda and the shoreside fuel transfer connection in Nome harbor Monday, January 16, 2012. The fuel transfer of more than 1.3 million gallons began later in the day.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst / U.S. Coast Guard
The 420-foot Coast Guard Cutter Healy breaks ice in the Bering Sea to assist the tanker Renda make way toward approximately 165 miles from Nome, Alaska, Sunday Jan. 8, 2012. The Coast Guard icebreaker is cutting a path through icy seas for a Russian tanker carrying much-needed fuel for the iced-in Alaska city of Nome. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally)
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally /
Coast Guard Cutter Healy and tanker vessel Renda remain offshore as the offload of 1.3 million gallons of fuel nears completion on Jan. 18, 2011. Healy has been escorting and breaking ice for Renda since Jan. 3, 2012, and will soon begin breaking more than 300 miles of ice for the return trip. U.S.
Petty Officer Eric J. Chandler / U.S.Coast Guard
The Coast Guard Cutter Healy and the tanker vessel Renda sit just off the coast of Nome Jan. 15, 2012 after crossing the frozen Bering Sea. The Renda is preparing to transfer more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel that it carried while being escorted by the Healy.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst
The Coast Guard Cutter Healy escorts the Russian-flagged tanker Renda 250 miles south of Nome Friday Jan. 6, 2012. The vessels are transiting through ice up to five-feet thick in this area. 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. (AP Photo/US Coast Guard - Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis)
Sara Francis / US Coast Guard / AP2012
Tanker vessel Renda remains offshore as the transfer of 1.3 million gallons of fuel nears completion on Wednesday, January 18, 2012. The Coast Guard Cutter Healy has been escorting and breaking ice for Renda since January 3, 2012, and will soon begin breaking more than 300 miles of ice for the return trip.
Petty Officer Eric J. Chandler / U.S.Coast Guard
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski sits in the co-pilot's seat of a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft while speaking with Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, Coast Guard District 17 commander, on a trip to Nome Jan. 15, 2012. Murkowski visited Nome upon the arrival of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy and tanker vessel Renda at the port with a critical fuel delivery.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst
The Russian-flagged tanker Renda sits stopped in the ice 250 miles south of Nome as the Coast Guard Cutter Healy makes several passes around it to break the ice Friday Jan. 6, 2012. The Healy crew is escorting the Renda to Nome to deliver more than one million gallons of fuel supplies to the city. The vessels are transiting through ice up to five-feet thick in this area. 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.
Sara Francis / US Coast Guard
A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew lands on a frozen sea ice sheet on Wednesday, January 18, 2012. The helicopter and crew have been traveling with the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, during the escort of the tanker vessel Renda.
Petty Officer Eric J. Chandler / U.S.Coast Guard
The crew of a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter lands their aircraft on the flight deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy just off the coast of Nome Jan. 15, 2012. The Dolphin was transporting local, state and federal representatives to the Healy during a media day focused on the delivery of more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel to Nome by the tanker vessel Renda.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst
The 420-foot Coast Guard Cutter Healy, top, creates a return path in the Bering Sea ice to assist the Russian-flagged tanker Renda, bottom, 165 miles south of Nome, Alaska, Jan. 8, 2012. The cutter Healy and tanker Renda have been making their way to Nome through the Bering Sea ice for two days to deliver more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel Nome, Alaska.
Jonathan Lally / US Coast Guard

NOME -- Crews worked to build a path Sunday over a half-mile of Bering Sea ice for the final leg of a Russian tanker's mission to deliver fuel to a town isolated amid one of the most severe Alaska winters in decades.

The tanker was moored roughly a half-mile from Nome's harbor after a Coast Guard cutter cleared a path for it through hundreds of miles of a slow journey stalled by thick ice and strong ocean currents.

The tanker maneuvered into position Saturday night, and ice disturbed by its journey had to freeze again so workers could create some sort of roadway to lay a hose that will transfer 1.3 million gallons of fuel from the tanker to the harbor in Nome.

On Sunday, workers spent the morning walking around the vessel and checking the ice to make sure it was safe to lay the hose, which will take about four hours, said Jason Evans, board chairman of the Sitnasuak Native Corp.

With the tanker and the Coast Guard ice breaker laying just offshore and poised to deliver the fuel, Evans said the bulk of the mission's biggest challenges were behind the crew, but a lot of work remained.

Still, the final job of transferring fuel from the ship to the town comes with its own hurdles: In addition to waiting for the ice to freeze, crews must begin the transfer in daylight, a state mandate. And Nome has just five hours of daylight this time of year.

"In theory, it was possible and in reality, it now is done," Evans said of the journey.

A storm prevented Nome's 3,500 residents from receiving a fuel delivery by barge in November. Without the tanker delivery, supplies of diesel fuel, gasoline and home heating fuel were expected to run out in March and April, well before a barge delivery could arrive in late May or June.

The especially harsh winter has left snow piled up 10 feet or higher against the wood-sided buildings in Nome. On Sunday, everything was covered in a layer of wind-blown snow and vehicles looked frozen in place, as though they hadn't been moved in weeks.

The tanker began its journey from Russia in mid-December, picking up diesel fuel in South Korea before heading to Dutch Harbor, where it took on unleaded gasoline. Late Thursday, the vessels stopped offshore and began planning the transfer to Nome, more than 500 miles from Anchorage on Alaska's west coast.

In total, the tanker traveled an estimated 5,000 miles going from Russia to South Korea, then toward Japan and to Dutch Harbor and Nome, said Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander of District Seventeen with the Coast Guard.

Despite the complicated logistics of delivering fuel by sea in winter, Sitnasuak opted for the extra delivery after determining that it would be much less costly and more practical than flying fuel to Nome.

Mark Smith, CEO of Vitus Marine LLC, the fuel supplier that arranged to have the Russian tanker and its crew deliver the fuel, described the challenges as substantial, partly because winter has been especially harsh in the region this year. He said that moving the tanker even with the help of the cutter through more than 300 miles of pack ice was a "very profound obstacle."

Opinion appeared to be divided in Nome, where some welcomed the arrival of the tanker and others thought it was a manufactured and unnecessary crisis.

Cari Miller was among the residents unconvinced a real crisis was at hand. The 43-year-old mother, who has lived in Nome for eight years, said she believed that another fuel provider in town had plenty of fuel for the community.

"We do not have a fuel crisis," she said. "It wasn't necessary."

Kwan Yi, 40, a maintenance worker at the Polaris Bar in Nome, faulted Sitnasuak for not arranging for barge delivery earlier last fall, but said he believed the town was in need of fuel. He said he was pleased the fuel tanker had arrived after he had struggled with frozen pipes and gas leaks.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who flew to Nome on Sunday, said the town's ordeal had captured the world's attention as it displayed a reality of Alaska life.

"This is real. This is what we deal with," the senator said, while making an appeal for more resources to be placed in the Arctic.

The crew of the 370-foot tanker Renda was working to ensure safety in the transfer of the fuel through the segmented hose, Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow said in a telephone interview from Nome on Saturday night.

Once crews created a suitable path for the hose to rest on, its segments were to be bolted together and inspected before the fuel can begin to flow.

Though the transfer must start during daylight, it can continue in darkness, Betty Schorr of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has said. It could be finished within 36 hours if everything goes smoothly, but it could take as long as five days, she said.

Evans said once the hose is laid, personnel will walk its entire length every 30 minutes to check for leaks. Each segment of hose will have its own spill containment area, and extra absorbent boom will be on hand in case of a spill.

Webcam on Coast Guard icebreaker Healy
By MARY PEMBERTON
Associated Press