Russian Tanker to Bring Fuel to Iced-in Alaska City

The iced-in city of Nome on Alaska's western coast may be in luck: A Russian tanker that can plow through thick ice will try to deliver 1.5 million gallons of home heating fuel, gasoline and diesel fuel after a massive storm kept a barge from getting in before winter.

The vessel -- which is certified to travel through ice 4 feet thick for long distances -- delivers fuel to communities in the Russian Far East. The plan is for it to leave Russia this week and go to South Korea, where it will be loaded with fuel, and then travel to Nome, where it should arrive by late December.

If it can't make it into port, the tanker is equipped with a hose of more than a mile for off-loading fuel.

It could save the 3,500 residents of the coastal city from a very costly winter, including predictions of $9-a-gallon gasoline if fuel had to be flown in.

The double-hulled Ice Classed Russian tanker, owned by Vitus Marine LLC, has been contracted to deliver the petroleum products, the Sitnasuak Native Corporation announced Monday.

Sitnasuak board chairman Jason Evans said if the marine tanker succeeds, it will be the first time petroleum products have been delivered by sea in winter to a western Alaska community.

"It really came down to that one vessel that could possibly do the job. It just so happens it was available at the moment we needed it," Evans said.

Sitnasuak looked at its options after a Delta Western Inc. barge was not able to make a delivery to Nome, leaving the city short of its winter fuel supplies. If nothing was done, supplies of gasoline and diesel, needed to run ambulances and state equipment to maintain and plow roads, were expected to reach low levels within three months. Home heating fuel was in better supply.

Sitnasuak, which has been in the fuel businesses for more than 20 years, said that flying fuel to Nome would be costly. It settled on the Russian, ice-class tanker delivery plan after determining it would be much less costly and more practical than flying fuel to Nome.

The tanker recently traveled through about 5 feet of ice to reach communities in the Russian Far East, Evans said.