Alaska ice mission: Renda, Healy arrive in open water

The Russian tanker Renda offshore of Nome, Alaska as the transfer of 1.3 million gallons of fuel nears completion on January 18, 2012. Photo: Eric J. Chandler,  US Coast Guard, AFP.The trans-ocean fuel mission that had never been done before and was successfully pulled off is nearing its end.

A Russian-flagged fuel tanker, Renda, and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, Healy, were twin adventurers for the journey, which required the ships to cut through hundreds of miles of sea ice to get to Nome, a small city on Alaska’s western coast inaccessible by road.

What made the mission remarkable is that Nome is also inaccessible by boat during the winter.

On Sunday, the ships crossed an important threshold signifying smoother seas for the return journey: they exited the ice pack that had at times awed and mystified them, and more than once slowed them to a halt. Round trip, the two ships navigated through nearly 800 miles of Bering Sea ice.

“Throughout this historic journey the Coast Guard has benefited from federal, state and local partnerships to deliver the critical fuel supply to the City of Nome,” said Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, 17th Coast Guard District commander in a prepared statement Monday. “Our number one priority in the last leg of this evolution is to continue ensuring the safety of both crews and the safety of the environment.”

Healy’s crew has been under way since May 27, and will now head to its home port of Seattle. Renda is expected to continue on its home port of Vladivostok in the Russian far east. Late Monday afternoon, the two ships were nearing Dutch Harbor. Neither ship has plans to stop there.

Bringing the fuel in by barge was less expensive than attempting to fly the same volume of fuel, via a series of much smaller air deliveries, to Nome, where fuel prices had in December averaged just under $6 per gallon. Bonanza Fuel, a subsidiary of Sitnasuak Native Corporation, arranged for the tanker through Vitus Marine, a local shipping company.

“Completing this fuel delivery to Nome offers an excellent example of how real teamwork can yield great results. It also demonstrates how coordination between international suppliers, vessel owners, and bankers can be part of a local Alaskan solution,” said Mark Smith, Vitus Marine’s C.E.O.

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)

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