Ship delivers to ice-bound Alaska port
Nome - A Russian ship carrying vital fuel has arrived at this remote Alaskan port after battling through some 480km of Arctic ice, an official said.
Helped by a US Coast Guard icebreaker, the Russian tanker Renda docked at Nome on Saturday.
"The Renda is at its mooring point in position for delivery, with the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy standing by," Petty Officer Sara Francis, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard, told AFP.
She said fuel transfer was scheduled to begin on Monday after the ice around the Russian tanker had solidified again, making it possible to approach it.
"Attaching the fuel hose could start tomorrow, but no personnel or equipment will approach the Renda, or start to put additional pressure on it, until the ice has refrozen," Francis pointed out. "All personnel are in Arctic gear... and have been trained on how to work on the ice."
The Russian ship has brought 1.3 million gallons of fuel for Nome, a town of some 3 500 people which did not get its usual pre-winter oil delivery due to a storm in the fall.
It is the first time such a fuel delivery has been attempted through some 480km of ice in the depths of winter, and wind and currents have made progress through the ice difficult.
The Renda, travelling in the wake of the US cutter Healy, has had to be repeatedly helped by the ice-breaker after ice built up around it, said the Coast Guard spokesperson.
The bone-chilling weather is harsh even by Alaska's standards: officials said temperatures had been down to minus 45°C on the two vessels.
A special waiver had to be granted to allow the Renda to head to the rescue, as normally only US-owned and operated vessels are allowed to make such deliveries, under a 1920 US law.
Once hoses are connected, the fuel transfer operation is expected to take some 45 hours, pumping continuously day and night until the fuel is all delivered, officials say.
A path has been cleared through the snow on a beach with a good view of the harbour for townspeople to watch the action, but red-tipped stakes have been placed in the ice to mark off an out-of-bounds area where the hoses will run.
Even once it has started transferring the fuel, it is difficult to predict exactly how long the operation will take, since the extreme temperatures could interfere with how fast the fuel can be pumped.