Tanker En Route To Cut-Off Alaska City Hits Ice - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Tanker En Route To Cut-Off Alaska City Hits Ice

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — 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.

However, he pointed out to the Alaska Dispatch that the scenario was nonetheless difficult. "The ice conditions are giving us a number of challenging issues," he said. "We can break it open but it is quickly closing."

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

Mosley told the Dispatch that the ships, crawling through the ice very close together, would struggle overnight as the darkness would make it difficult for the captains to keep watch and avoid knocking into each other.

"They are moving on at a crawl," Mosley said.

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