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Fuel transfer begins at iced-in Alaska city

Published: Friday, Sept. 4 2015 7:34 p.m. MDT

In a photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Russian tanker Renda sits just off the coast of Nome with two fuel transfer hoses running to a causeway in the Nome harbor Monday Jan. 16, 2012. After being escorted through the ice by the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the Renda began delivering more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel Monday.  (U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst, Associated Press) In a photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Russian tanker Renda sits just off the coast of Nome with two fuel transfer hoses running to a causeway in the Nome harbor Monday Jan. 16, 2012. After being escorted through the ice by the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the Renda began delivering more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel Monday. (U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst, Associated Press)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A Russian tanker and its crew have begun offloading more than a million gallons of fuel to an iced-in city along the western coast of Alaska.

Two parallel hoses, 700 yards long each, are stretched between the tanker Renda and a pipeline that will deliver the fuel to storage tanks in the city of Nome. One is carrying gasoline, the other diesel fuel.

The transfer could be finished within 36 hours or it could take as long as five days. It started near sundown Monday, after crews laid the hoses along a stretch of Bering Sea ice to the pipeline that begins on a rock causeway 550 yards from the tanker, said Jason Evans, board chairman of the Sitnasuak Native Corp.

Sitnasuak owns the local fuel company, Bonanza Fuel, and has been working closely with Vitus Marine, the supplier that arranged for the delivery of the 1.3 million gallons of fuel.

In a photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, two hose lines run from the Russian tanker Renda as they prepare for pressure tests Monday Jan. 16, 2012 in Nome, Alaska. The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy has been escorting  and  breaking ice for the Renda since Jan. 3, 2012, to help deliver approximately 1.3 million gallons of gasoline and diesel to Nome, Alaska.  (U.S.  Coast Guard, Petty  Officer 2nd Class Eric J. Chandler., Associated Press) In a photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, two hose lines run from the Russian tanker Renda as they prepare for pressure tests Monday Jan. 16, 2012 in Nome, Alaska. The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy has been escorting and breaking ice for the Renda since Jan. 3, 2012, to help deliver approximately 1.3 million gallons of gasoline and diesel to Nome, Alaska. (U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric J. Chandler., Associated Press)

State officials said the transfer must start during daylight, but can continue in darkness. Nome has just five hours of daylight this time of year.

The city of 3,500 didn't get its last pre-winter barge fuel delivery because of a massive November storm. Without the Renda's delivery, Nome would run out of fuel by March or April, long before the next barge delivery is possible.

Alaska has had one of the most severe winters in decades. Snow has piled up 10 feet or higher against the wood-sided buildings in Nome, a former gold rush town that is the final stop on the 1,150-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

The Renda began its journey from Russia in mid-December, picking up diesel fuel in South Korea before heading to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, where it took on unleaded gasoline. It arrived last week off Nome on Alaska's west coast, more than 500 miles from Anchorage.

In a photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, two fuel transfer hoses run side-by-side from the Russian tanker Renda to the Nome harbor Jan. 16, 2012. The hoses began transferring more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel from the tanker to the town later that day.  (U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst, Associated Press) In a photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, two fuel transfer hoses run side-by-side from the Russian tanker Renda to the Nome harbor Jan. 16, 2012. The hoses began transferring more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel from the tanker to the town later that day. (U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst, Associated Press)

A Coast Guard icebreaker cleared a path for the 370-foot tanker through hundreds of miles of a slow journey stalled by thick ice and strong ocean currents. In total, the tanker traveled an estimated 5,000 miles, said Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander of District Seventeen with the Coast Guard.

"It's just been an absolutely grand collaboration by all parties involved," said Stacey Smith of Vitus Marine, the fuel supplier.

Smith said the effort is a third of the way over with the arrival of the Renda near Nome. Pumping the fuel from the tanker will be the second part. The third part will be the exiting through ice by the two ships.

Personnel will walk the entire length of hosing every 30 minutes to check for leaks, Evans said. Each segment has its own containment area, and extra absorbent boom will be on hand.

A photo provided by Vitus Marine shows David Gains, second from right, from intertek holding a sample of gasoline pumped from the Russian Tanker Renda. background right, in Nome Alaska Monday Jan. 16, 2012. With Gains are from left, Mark Smith of Vitus Marine, Scot Henderson of Bonanza Fuel, and Joy Baker, Nome Harbor Master.  The U.S. Coast Guard ice breaker Healy is in the background at left.  (Vitus Marine, Associated Press) A photo provided by Vitus Marine shows David Gains, second from right, from intertek holding a sample of gasoline pumped from the Russian Tanker Renda. background right, in Nome Alaska Monday Jan. 16, 2012. With Gains are from left, Mark Smith of Vitus Marine, Scot Henderson of Bonanza Fuel, and Joy Baker, Nome Harbor Master. The U.S. Coast Guard ice breaker Healy is in the background at left. (Vitus Marine, Associated Press)

The Coast Guard is monitoring the effort, working with state, federal, local and tribal representatives, Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow said. The fuel participants had to submit a plan to state environmental regulators on how they intended to get the fuel off the Renda, he said.

"We want to make sure the fuel transfer from the Renda to the onshore storage facility is conducted in as safe a manner as possible," he said.

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