American Elephants

U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy Reaches Stranded Nome by The Elephant's Child

U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy has been opening a channel to Nome for a Russian oil Tanker Renda, for months, to carry fuel to the town of 3,500 to get them through the winter.  Nome, Alaska has been coping with the coldest winter since the 1970s, and is badly in need of fuel.

The ships have battled their way through 300 miles of ice since mid December.  The tanker got into position Saturday night, 2.100 feet from shore, and the ice broken up by its journey had to freeze over again so workers could create a roadway over which to lay hose to transfer the 1.3 million gallons of fuel. A storm in November prevented the town from getting a fuel delivery by barge. Without the fuel delivery, supplies of diesel fuel, gasoline and home heating oil were expected to run out in March or April, well before the next barge delivery in late May or June.

The tanker picked up diesel fuel in South Korea, then took on unleaded gasoline in Dutch Harbor Alaska. The fuel transfer is complicated by waiting for the ice to freeze again, and crews must begin the transfer in daylight — a state mandate. The tanker has a mile of special arctic hose, in 400 foot sections that weigh 800 pounds apiece. The transfer will take about 45 hours. The fuel transfer is complicated by waiting for the ice to freeze again, and crews must begin the transfer in daylight — a state mandate. Nome has only five hours of daylight this time of year.  Though it has to start in daylight, it can be completed after dark.

The Coast Guard’s 420-foot Healy is America’s only icebreaker at present, and its crew of 85 have been deployed for seven months.  The Healy is considered a “medium” icebreaker able to break through 4.5 feet of ice at a speed of 3 knots.  The 399 fo0t Polar Sea had a major engine casualty in 2010, and is now being decommissioned.  The Polar Star is undergoing a $60 million renovation cannibalizing  parts from the Polar Sea. These two are “heavy” icebreakers, built to break through 6 feet of ice at 3 knots.

A tiny unmanned aerial vehicle has been transmitting pictures of the approach of the Healy and the lifesaving tanker. You can see the pictures here. Tough duty in the Arctic. Just looking at the pictures makes me cold.

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