Fuel-bearing tanker nears iced-in Alaska city

With the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the Russian tanker Renda powers toward Nome, Alaska carrying 1.3 million gallons of fuel on January 10, 2012 in the Bering Sea.
Sara Francis/U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A Russian tanker hauling much-needed fuel across the ice-choked Bering Sea has arrived at Alaska's western coastline and was waiting for daylight Friday morning near the town of Nome.

The vessel reached the area late Thursday night was just six miles offshore, U.S. Coast Guard official Adam De Rocher said.

The 370-foot tanker carrying more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel was shepherded through hundreds of miles of sea ice by a Coast Guard icebreaker.

Crews are waiting for light because it will be safer going through the ice and they will have a better idea of where to anchor to start unloading fuel. Daylight doesn't come to that part of Alaska until 11:30 a.m. local time.

"They want to get a good staging area to start taking fuel off and that would be easier in the morning," De Rocher said.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is urging Nome residents to stay off the ice to view the two vessels because it's unsafe with the ships around.

The city of about 3,500 people 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.

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Officials of the Sitnasuak Native Corp., one of the companies undertaking the delivery, 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.