Russian tanker, U.S. icebreaker out of Bering Sea ice

The Coast Guard Cutter Healy, an icebreaker, and the Russian tanker T/V Renda broke out of the Bering Sea icepack Jan. 29, just 10 days after leaving Nome and delivering 1.4 million gallons of fuel, a spokeswoman for Vitus Marine LLC said.

Vitus Marine had contracted with Nome-based Sitnasuak Corp. to make arrangements for the Renda to deliver 1.4 million gallons of fuel to Nome, and for the Healy to break a path through ice for the tanker, according to Stacey Smith, spokeswoman for Vitus Marine.

Ice conditions were difficult on the journey from Nome to the edge of the ice, a distance of more than 300 miles. Several times the Renda was halted in the ice, causing the Healy to have to circle back and break out a new channel.

Mark Smith, Vitus Marine CEO, said the vessels encountered tremendous compression of the ice from winds and currents, and conditions were difficult at certain points such as along the north side of Nunivak Island.

“The Arctic Ocean is like a big ice machine spilling down through the Bering Straits, and the ice tends to pile up on the north side of islands,” Smith said.

A complication was that as soon as the Healy would break a path, the ice would close in behind it before the Renda could reach the open channel. Another complication on the outbound trip was that the Renda, having unloaded its fuel, was riding higher in the water and had less momentum to get though tight spots in the ice, Smith said.

However, the tanker was able to adjust its speed faster, responding to changes in speed by the icebreaker, he said.

The Renda is now en route to its base in Vladivostok, in the Russian Far East, Smith said. The Healy is on the way to its homeport in Seattle.

Going to and from Nome, the Healy and Renda had broken through about 800 miles of icepack. The trip was organized after Nome’s scheduled late-fall delivery of fuel by barge was interrupted by a major Bering Sea storm.

“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. “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.”

Vitus CEO Smith said, “we strive to bring creative solutions to our customers, and completing this fuel delivery to Nome offers an excellent example of how real teamwork can yield results.”

11/07/2016 - 2:06pm