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Fuel-loaded tanker getting near to Nome

Coast Guard vessel leads through ice

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A Russian tanker carrying much-needed fuel for the iced-in Alaska city of Nome was about 190 miles away on Saturday and was making slow but steady progress, a company official said.

The city of about 3,500 people on the western Alaska coastline 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 without the delivery.

The 370-foot tanker was carrying more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel and was being shepherded through hundreds of miles of sea ice by the U.S. Coast Guard.

“They’re navigating through ice right now, taking a direct route for now,” said Jason Evans, the CEO of Sitnasuak Native Corp, one of the companies undertaking the delivery. “They considered going through patches where there might be thinner ice, but determined that that would have taken them on a longer route.”

Evans estimated that the ship traveled another 20 or 30 miles after the Saturday morning report. The ship is scheduled to arrive late Monday or perhaps Tuesday.

If the mission is successful, it will be the first time petroleum products have been delivered by sea to a Western Alaska community in winter.

The Russian tanker came upon ice about a foot thick very early Friday near Nunivak Island, a large island in the eastern Bering Sea, the Coast Guard said. The tanker is following the Healy, the Coast Guard’s only functioning icebreaker – a ship of special design with a reinforced hull made to move through ice.