Two ships trying to break through ice to resupply ice-bound Nome, Alaska, are nearly there after a 10-day journey but have paused to identify the safest path into harbor, a U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman said Friday.
The U.S. Coast Guard's only operating Arctic icebreaker, the Cutter Healy, and the Russian fuel tanker Renda were in the Bering Sea about eight nautical miles from Nome on Friday morning, Coast Guard Lt. Veronica Colbath told “CNN Newsroom.”
The Healy will have broken through nearly 300 miles of ice for the Renda, which is transporting 1.3 million gallons of fuel for Nome on a journey that began last week from southern Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. The ships’ leaders and an ice expert are discussing “the best way to proceed” to Nome on northwestern Alaska’s coast, Colbath said.
“We have (had) … ice and weather challenges on this 300-mile journey, so we will not be rushing into the harbor of Nome until we have identified the best course of action to navigate in,” Colbath said.
Colbath didn’t say when the convoy would try to make its final approach to Nome, a town of about 3,600 people.
The voyage is the first-ever attempt to supply fuel to an Arctic Alaska settlement through sea ice. The Sitnasuak Native Corp. of Nome contracted the Renda to deliver the fuel after ice formed over the Bering Sea following a ferocious November storm that prevented the last delivery of the season via barge.
The Healy and Renda plan to stop at stable ice short of Nome’s harbor, the Coast Guard has said. Officials intend to place hoses on the ice to transfer the fuel from the Renda to land.
The Coast Guard has been telling Nome residents not to go out on the ice to watch the operations.
“The behavior of the ice as the vessels transit closer to the city is extremely unpredictable and ice conditions could change rapidly,” Lt. Nicole Auth, the Coast Guard’s safety coordinator in Nome, said in a statement this week.
Coast Guard officials initially hoped the convoy would arrive last Sunday depending on weather conditions. But the convoy was held up a few times for various reasons, including an ice ridge on which the Renda became stuck Tuesday.
Nome isn't in immediate danger of running out of fuel, Coast Guard Capt. Craig Lloyd, who is coordinating the mission, said earlier. The town has enough fuel to last until about March, but the delivery was attempted now because it would have been even more difficult then, he said.
Corporation officials considered flying in fuel, but it would have taken more than 300 flights, each carrying 4,000 to 5,000 gallons, to meet the town's needs, said Jason Evans, chairman of Sitnasuak Native Corp.