NOME, Alaska — A Russian tanker left the Alaskan coast Saturday bound for home after delivering fuel to a remote Alaskan port, in an unprecedented winter operation helped by a US Coast Guard ice-breaker.
The Vladivostok-based Renda followed its escort the USCG Healy into the mist, leaving Nome after supplying 1.3 million gallons of fuel to top off the ice-locked town’s winter fuel supply.
The Russian ship had arrived a week earlier after battling across 300 miles (480 kilometers) of Arctic ice to reach Nome, a town of 3,500 people, with the help of the Healy.
The remote town did not get its usual pre-winter oil delivery due to a storm, necessitating the unprecedented operation to bring fuel in during winter.
A special waiver had to be granted to allow the Renda to head to the rescue, as under a 1920 law only US-owned and operated vessels are allowed to make such deliveries.
The two ships finally arrived near Nome late last week, although it took several days to move the tanker into position and start pumping fuel through some 460 yards (meters) of arctic-proof hoses to fuel storage tanks onshore.
Once out of the ice, the ships will separate. The Healy will go to Seattle for maintenance.
Mark Smith, head of Vitus Marine, the company that chartered the Renda for the fuel delivery, said ice and wind conditions could be favorable for the ship’s return to Vladivostock, its home port in Russia’s Far East.
Forecasts suggested 100-150 miles of open water were opening up, he said before the tanker and its US escort left.
“They are optimistic that if they can get away from shore fast ice they can make some rapid progress,” he said.
“It’s all about ice conditions, but once the Renda is free of the ice pack, they are probably 10 days away from homeport in Vladivostok.”