Russian fuel ship nears ice-bound Alaska port

14th January 2012, Comments 0 comments

A Russian ship carrying vital fuel to a remote Alaskan port could finally deliver its load Saturday after battling through some 300 (480 km) miles of Arctic ice, the US Coast Guard said.

Helped by a US Coast Guard ice-breaker, the Russian tanker "Renda" was within seven miles of the port of Nome by late Friday, but was proceeding very cautiously for its final approach.

"They're trying to identify the best course and the best place to navigate into so that the 'Renda' can get as close as possible but that she'll also be able to leave at the end of this," said spokeswoman Veronica Colbath.

"We're almost there but we're not completely there yet, and there's still a lot of moving parts to this operation," she told AFP, adding that the Russian tanker has about a mile of hose on board for the delicate operation.

The Russian ship is carrying 1.3 million gallons of fuel for Nome, a city of some 3,500 people which did not get its usual pre-winter oil delivery due to a storm in the fall.

It is the first time such a fuel delivery has been attempted through some 300 miles of ice in the depths of winter, and wind and currents have made progress through the ice difficult.

The "Renda," traveling in the wake of the US cutter "Healy," has had to be repeatedly helped by the ice-breaker after ice built up around it, said the Coast Guard spokeswoman.

The bone-chilling weather is harsh even by Alaska's standards: the Coast Guard spokeswoman said temperatures had been down to minus 50 degrees on the two vessels.

A special waiver had to be granted to allow the "Renda" to head to the rescue, as normally only US-owned and operated vessels would be allowed to make such deliveries, under a 1920 US law.

By Friday everything was set for the Russian ship to deliver its load, but the Coast Guard would not speculate on whether the operation would in fact happen Saturday.

"They still have to get the 'Renda' close enough that the hose can reach, and they still have to make sure that wherever the 'Renda' is moored up that she'll be able to get out as well," said Colbath.

© 2012 AFP

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