A Coast Guard icebreaker and a Russian tanker trying to resupply icebound Nome, Alaska, are once again advancing on the coastal town after a nearly two-day pause in the Bering Sea.
The U.S. Coast Guard's only operating Arctic icebreaker, the Cutter Healy, and the Russian fuel tanker Renda were about 67 nautical miles from Nome on Thursday morning, Lt. Veronica Colbath, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, said.
The vessels had made virtually no progress for much of Tuesday and Wednesday, when they were about 100 nautical miles out, according to the Coast Guard. The pause was due in part because the Healy had to free the Renda from an ice ridge on Tuesday, the Alaska Dispatch reported.
Officials are tentatively hoping the ships, carrying 1.3 million gallons of fuel, will arrive at Nome this weekend, Colbath said.
The Healy is escorting the Renda through the ice-covered waters in the first-ever attempt to supply fuel to an Arctic Alaska settlement through sea ice. The ships will have broken through 300 miles of ice by voyage's end.
The Sitnasuak Native Corp. of Nome contracted the Renda to deliver the fuel after ice formed over the Bering Sea in the wake of a ferocious November storm that prevented the last delivery of the season via barge.
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.