The pace of a seagoing fuel convoy slowed on Monday as thick ice threatened the hull of the tanker carrying an emergency shipment of diesel and gasoline for the town of Nome.
"The worst case scenario is the ice becomes too much for the progress, and we aren't going to make it to Nome," said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley.
The 370-foot tanker Renda, a Russian-flagged tanker hauling 1.3 million gallons of fuel, had been scheduled to arrive by Tuesday, accompanied by the U.S. Healy icebrearker. But the Coast Guard on Monday said the convoy's speed had been halved to 2 mph and that it had no estimated time of arrival with the ships still some 165 miles out.
The town of about 3,500 people on the western Alaska coastline did not get its last pre-winter fuel delivery because of a massive storm. If the delivery is not made, the city likely will run short of fuel supplies before another barge delivery can be made in spring.
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.
Supplying hospitals, schools
The Renda left Russia in mid-December after the barge delivery of 1.6 million gallons of fuel failed and Nome became iced-in for the winter.
The tanker is carrying diesel fuel loaded in South Korea and unleaded gasoline picked up in Dutch Harbor in southwestern Alaska.
Sitnasuak Native Corp., the company that eventually signed a contract with Vitus Marine LLC to have a tanker delivery, considered flying supplies to Nome but decided against that plan because of the cost and the possibility fuel prices could jump to $9 a gallon. The tanker delivery is expected to be more costly than by barge but not as expensive as air delivery.
"I would be happy if we never ship through ice again," Sitnasuak Native Corp. chairman Jason Evans told the Alaska Dispatch.
The Native corporation is a major fuel supplier to the city, with between 800 and 1,000 customers including the hospital and schools.