ANCHORAGE, ALASKA — A Russian tanker has muscled its way through hundreds of miles of Bering Sea ice several feet thick to deliver fuel to Nome. Now comes the tricky part: getting more than a million gallons of diesel and gasoline to shore through a mile-long hose without a spill.
The problem is that Nome’s harbor is iced-in, preventing the 370-foot tanker from getting to the city dock. It will have to moor offshore to transfer its 1.3-million-gallon payload across the ice and to fuel headers that feed a nearby tank farm.
“I think all of the precautions have been addressed,” Nome Harbormaster Joy Baker said Friday. “I think everything that should be done has been done.”
For days, operations officials have looked at how best to lay the segmented fuel hose across the shore-fast ice for the transfer. The idea is to get the tanker as close to the harbor as possible to reduce the chance of a spill.
There has been lots of anxious waiting since the ship left Russia in mid-December. It picked up diesel fuel in South Korea before traveling to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, where it took on unleaded gasoline.
A Coast Guard icebreaker escorted the tanker through the Bering Sea pack ice, the two vessels at times barely crawling along as officials looked for new techniques to get the tanker free of shifting ice.
Late Thursday, the Coast Guard Cutter Healy and the Renda stopped six miles offshore to wait for daylight and figure out how to get the tanker within about a mile of the harbor so its hose will reach the dock.
Nome Mayor Denise Michels sat in her car Friday morning in record-breaking low temperatures and gazed past the harbor entrance. Her eyes focused on the lights coming from the tanker and the icebreaker just before dawn.
“It is right out there. You can see it,” she said. “We are pretty excited.”
The Coast Guard icebreaker began moving again late Friday morning, said University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher Greg Walker, who is in Nome providing information about ice conditions near the harbor.