Fuel ship 190 miles away from iced-in Nome

The Russian-flagged tanker Renda, carrying more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel, sits in the ice while the Coast Guard Cutter Healy crew breaks the ice around the tanker approximately 19 miles northwest of Nunivak Island Jan. 6, 2012. The cutter Healy crew is escorting the Renda crew to Nome, Alaska, where the tanker crew will offload the needed fuel 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. (AP Photo/US Coast Guard - Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis)

ANCHORAGE — A Russian tanker carrying much-needed fuel for the iced-in Alaska city of Nome was about 190 miles away on Saturday morning and was making slow but steady progress, a company official said.

The city of about 3,500 people on the western Alaska coastline normally gets fuel by barge. But it didn’t get its last pre-winter fuel delivery because of a massive storm and it could run out of crucial supplies before spring without the delivery.

The 370-foot tanker was carrying more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel and was being shepherded through hundreds of miles of sea ice by the U.S. Coast Guard.

“They’re navigating through ice right now, taking a direct route for now,” said Jason Evans, the CEO of Sitnasuak Native Corp, one of the companies undertaking the delivery. “They considered going through patches where there might be thinner ice, but determined that that would have taken them on a longer route.”

Evans estimated that the ship traveled another 20 or 30 miles after the Saturday morning report. The ship is scheduled to arrive later Monday or perhaps even Tuesday.

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

“It’s going basically as planned,” Evans said.

Sitnasuak officials have said they settled on the Russian tanker delivery plan after determining it would be much less expensive and more practical than flying fuel into Nome. The vessel, which is certified to travel through ice 4 feet thick for long distances, normally delivers fuel to communities in the Russian Far East.

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