Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nome Rescue Mission (Updated Wed 21:00 hrs GMT)

On Tuesday January 10 in Nome Alaska, Coast Guard Cmdr. Scott Johnson, forward operating base Nome operations section chief, coordinates a planning meeting for the Nome fuel support mission.

The Coast Guard is working closely with local, state federal and tribal partners along with industry representatives to coordinate the safe delivery of fuel to Nome. Lady in red jacket is Joy Baker, City of Nome Harbormaster. US Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Charly Hengen.

This graphic depicts the planned Nome Energy Support safety zone as of January 10, 2012. Nome residents are asked to avoid traveling on ice as the Coast Guard Cutter Healy and Russian tanker Renda begin transiting shore fast ice surrounding the city. U.S. Coast Guard graphic. Captain Pete Garay, the Alaska Marine Pilot commanding the T/V Renda made these comments concerning arrival and offloading at Nome: "Optimum plan is to remain in 13 meters water depth offshore, so if necessary Healy can break us out at completion of offload. "Since we may be 4 days offloading we are going to be frozen in tight, and the tighter the better so as to have a stable platform to work from. "Ice moorings: I propose we have the ice augers and bits stationed on the ice ready for deployment. Once the ship is in her final position stable holes can be drilled, posts set, and filled with water. Railroad ties could work. Maybe someone can fashion a cruciform bit of sorts on top of them. "In terms of lines since we are going to be so far offshore -- 7 cables from the outer cell -- I wouldn't bother with lines that would have to span this distance. Let's plan on using the ship's lines, which are all on drums." [ed note: One cable is one tenth of nautical mile. A nautical mile is 6,076.115 feet.]

Circling in Patterns


I grew curious as to why the the Healy was inscribing "patterns" circling around the Renda. My high school physics suggested that because ice cannot be compressed, the passages broken up around the Renda result in "cavities" where the ice is pushed away by the Renda. But facing a critical audience, I decided to contact the Coast Guard, regarding the circling patterns. This was their response: "Mr. McDonald. We appreciate your interest in the Coast Guard Cutter Healy crew's mission. While following in the path created in the ice by the Healy, the tanker vessel Renda can be affected by the pressure of ice closing in from the sides. When the Healy circles back past the Renda, it creates somewhere for the ice causing the pressure to go, allowing the crew of the Renda to proceed with less force working against them."

So. My understanding of the patterns is validated!

Update Wednesday Jan 11. 00:35:00 AM GMT. From Capt. Carter Whalen, president of Alaska Marine Pilots: "Today's [Tuesday] progress is about 50'. Healy is trying to free Renda right now from an ice ridge. There is better, more favorable ice ahead." 50 feet. What a disappointment for the officers and crews of the Russian Tanker Renda and USCG Healy.

Fifty feet is the length of a standard US fire department hose.

Fifty feet is 10 feet longer than a 40 foot shipping container.

Fifty feet is 6 feet less than the length of a GP9 locomotive.
Fifty feet is 77 feet less than the length of a US Army LT. Full log entries are found on Alaska Dispatch. New videos were added yesterday.

Update: Tuesday, January 10: The Nome rescue mission has been officially dubbed the "Nome Energy Support Mission." Progress is extremely slow through the ice field. The Healy and T/V (Tanker Vessel) Renda are approximately 110 miles south of Nome as of January 9th, 2012, making an average speed of 2 miles per hour (1.7 knots) in ice 2½ feet thick.

The T/V Renda's hull is rated to contend with ice up to 4 feet thick. Meanwhile, the Anchorage Daily News reports Noatak and Kobuk have just about run out of fuel oil. In this story, a remarkable account of a senior citizen driving a snowmobile to a mine, to purchase a barrel of heating oil.

This story is more than a story of delivering fuel oil in winter to Nome. It has never been attempted before. Many agencies are revving up to monitor the events of the next few days as they play out. The stakes are high. There are serious environmental dangers in involved with a tanker and an icebreaker approaching Nome. This is not like two vessels entering Rotterdam. The major problem is draft. The Healy draws more water than the Renda. So how is the ice to be cleared, allowing the Renda to get within distance of the beach to unload? The State of Alaska has dispatched teams to take core samples of the ice flow that rammed Western Alaska during the serious storms that raked the Bering Sea in November, which stymied the tug and barge delivery, setting up this series of events. For answers read the Situation Report from Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. This report details HOW the petroleum products will be sent ashore.


 [ Ed Note: What follows is the original post, heavily edited as new information was verified, and new media applied where required.]

USCG Cmdr Gregory Tlapa
Largely overshadowed by the embarrassing political flea circus American's are exposed to, a remarkable event is taking place in an ice field in the Bering Sea. A Russian Tanker is delivering fuel oil purchased in South Korea, and unleaded gasoline picked up in Dutch Harbor, to Nome Alaska, with the assistance of an American Icebreaker!

Russian T/V Renda from USCG Healy
Due in part to the reality television series, "Deadliest Catch," many folk are familiar with the location of the Bering Sea. The Bering Sea, with fundamentally unfriendly weather conditions, contribute to the deadliest occupation in the United States. 128 per 100,000 Alaskan fishermen perished on the job in 2007, 26 times the national average. [source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health].

One of the northernmost Alaskan towns, Nome, missed a scheduled fuel deliver due to extreme storms, which raged across the Bering Sea in November. As you recall from your history class, Nome is the official destination of the famous annual dogsled race, The Iditarod, named after the now-abandoned town of Iditarod.

The race commemorates the 1925 "Great Race of Mercy." The mercy run involved 20 mushers and about 150 sled dogs as they relayed diphtheria antitoxin 674 miles (1,085 km) by dog sled across the U.S. territory of Alaska in five and a half days.

The record that has never been broken. And it saved Nome and the surrounding communities from an incipient epidemic. Ironically, most race affectionados do not know is, that the current race does not follow the Iditarod Trail nor does it follow the route used in 1925 to transport the vaccine!

In the Beginning...

The Associated Press released this traffic, datelined ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) A Russian tanker carrying much-needed fuel for the iced-in Alaska city of Nome was about 190 miles away on Saturday morning [Jan 7th] and was making slow but steady progress, a company official said. "The city of about 3,500 people on the western Alaska coastline normally gets fuel by barge. But it didn't get its last pre-winter fuel delivery because of a massive storm and it could run out of crucial supplies before spring without the delivery.

"The 370-foot tanker was carrying more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel and was being shepherded through approximately 300 miles of sea ice by the U.S. Coast Guard. The ship is scheduled to arrive later Monday or perhaps even Tuesday. 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.

"The Russian tanker, which is certified to travel through ice 4 feet thick for long distances, normally delivers fuel to communities in the Russian Far East, is following the Healy, the US Coast Guard's only functioning icebreaker."

"And now, the rest of the story."

Many are asking why is Nome in such a precarious fuel situation? Do they not have regularly scheduled fuel deliveries? Of course they do! Barge deliveries, not only of fuel, but everything found on the shelves of your local supermarket, are delivered by barge from the Lower 48, on tight schedules. There are limited resources and, more critical, a limited "window of opportunity" for delivery dates. So. If a scheduled delivery is missed, too bad, wait for the next "rotation" or season. An unseasonable Bering Sea Storm halted Delta Western, a Seattle based POL - petroleum, oil, lubricants - barge company, utilizing Seattle's famous Foss Maritime tugs to deliver the goods, from making its final delivery last year. [ed note: My late Dad worked for Foss for several years, as Chief Engineer on the Mary Foss, Patricia Foss, and others.] That delivery failure lead to considering other options, including Russian, Canadian and Norwegian resources, even air delivery. But flying in fuel would have taken more than 300 flights, each carrying 4,000 to 5,000 gallons, to meet the town's needs.

Nome has two gas stations, one located at the corner of Seppala and Bering Street in downtown Nome, a full-service gas station that offers eight credit-card, unleaded and diesel retail pumps, a propane bottle exchange service, and a full-service convenience store. And a four credit-card-only gas and diesel pumps located on the east end of Nome at the Nome Trading Post. Shipping cost by air would have added $3 or $4 to the price of a gallon of gasoline, which already approaches $6.00 a gallon, never mind the associated danger. So, Bonanza Fuel, the fuel distributor in Nome and a subsidiary of the Sitnasuak Native Corporation made the decision, to hire the Russian tanker Renda to make the critical fuel deliver to Nome. The contract was made for 1 million gallons of diesel fuel and 400,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline.
  • Records show Bonanza Fuel was established in 1994, incorporated in Alaska. Current estimates show this company has annual revenues of $50 to 100 million and employs a staff of approximately 20 to 49.
  • Sitnasuak's mission is to earn profits on operations while protecting land, culture and benefiting shareholders. It operates a number of for-profit businesses in Nome, including a home heating fuel delivery service.
The only product in critical supply is unleaded gasoline. The City is not in danger of running out of heating oil, nor residents freezing to death!

Officials In accord

This will be the first time that a fuel shipment has been delivered to an ice-locked community in Alaska. United States Senator Mark Begich (Dem - Alaska) praised the decision by Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, to allow a Russian flagged tanker to carry fuel from Dutch Harbor to Nome. "Movement of the fuel between two U.S. ports [Dutch Harbor and Nome] by a foreign flagged vessel required a waiver of the Jones Act. Begich sent letters to Napolitano on Dec. 9 and 22 in support of the waiver and has continued to press the department to grant the waiver quickly
Russian Tanker Renda arriving Dutch Harbor to load unleaded gasoline.
"Begich went on to express his appreciation for the crew of the Healy, who have given up their holidays to take care of the residents of Nome, a dedication to duty and public service which is in the best tradition of the United States Coast Guard."

Why the Renda?

Because the United States of America does not own an ice-breaking capable tanker. The one and only ice breaking tanker the United States did own was the Manhattan. But the Manhattan, following its historic voyages across the Northwest Passage, languished in Portland Oregon on the Willamette River for several years.

Finally, she was towed to Korea, and reduced to razor blades and Nikon cameras. (Yet another example of America, "as seen in the rear view mirror of the World.") I took photos of the Manhattan in 1979 and 1986, as she lay on the Willamette River. Just off her stern, a hot spot for sturgeon fishing!

"Catch and release; under three feet!" Then one day the Manhattan was gone. Nary a peep on the local news, who never appreciated they had a remarkable and famous tanker languishing on the river.


The Russian-flagged tanker Renda sits in the ice while the Coast Guard Cutter Healy crew breaks the ice around the tanker approximately 19 miles northwest of Nunivak Island Jan. 6, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard video by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.

The Russian tanker Renda, IMO 8129618, Ice Class UL1, dead weight tons 6,269, 113 m (371 feet) x 18 m (59 feet), built 1984, flag Russia, owned by RIMSCO, a private shipping company based in Vladivostok, Russia.

RIMSCO operates a fleet of eight tankers, six reefers and a number of port and sea-going tugs. Tanker Renda sailed from Vladivostok on December 19th to the South Korean port Yosu. There she was loaded with more than 3,000 tons of fuel oil.

Renda following Healy at 1.7 knots north to Nome
In Unalaska, the tanker took on an additional 1,000 tons of gasoline, and proceeded to Nome. This leg, Dutch Harbor to Nome, required the United States waiver of the Jones Act.


The U.S. Coast Guard has pledged to help the Renda make the voyage and will use the icebreaking cutter Healy to help clear a path for the tanker if necessary.The Seattle-based Healy is the Coast Guards only operating polar icebreaker. The law requires a "local pilot" to command the Renda. The job went to Capt. Garay.

Captain Garay has kept a detailed diary of his adventure piloting the Renda. He even describes the toilet paper he was issued by the Russian crew. You can read his diary at the Alaska Dispatch, along with progress reports from those in charge of the mission. Captain Garay even brought along a turkey and ham, to help the Russian's crew celebrate Christmas! Included in those updates are instructions for preparing a mooring site, once the Renda makes Nome. In the midst of this historic delivery, scientists are scrambling to collect ice data.


I call this information, "the World watching America disappear in the rear view mirror." The nation's two heavy polar icebreakers - the Polar Star and the Polar Sea - are out of commission.

USCG Polar Sea
The Polar Sea unlikely to see service again. This further underscores just how thin the nation's ice-breaking capabilities have become.

The 420-foot Healy, a medium-sized icebreaker, does not have the capabilities of the Polar Sea or Polar Star to channelize thick ice. The Nome rescue mission has lengthened the eight-month deployment of its 80-person crew, robbing them of a Christmas holiday. And it is delaying scheduled repairs to the ship, possibly affecting its scientific mission scheduled for next summer. Here comes the "rear view mirror:"
  • Russia has 25 polar icebreakers.
  • Finland has seven icebreakers.
  • Sweden has seven icebreakers.
  • Canada has six icebreakers.
Meanwhile, American's only real concerns are whether or not gay marriages are legal, and making Obama a "one term president." And remember, the heating oil was purchased in Korea. Photo & Video Credits: US Coast Guard 17th District.

See also: Sailing Day Follow the Yellow Silk Road What's Wrong with This Picture? Hull Design for Icebreaking Tankers Arctic Ocean Transport

4 Comments - Click here: said...

Wow! I felt like I was on that rescue mission. Incredible photos and video. As ususal your article follows the hows, whys and ways this feat was able to be pulled off, including the political background to allow the Russian ship into American waters. US Coast Guard are our wonderful heros. Thanks for time well spent. AGAIN!

macguy said...

This is a great article and great pictures. I am an American living in Canada but also watch the American news. The country is going to hell and the politicans are mostly worthless, not an ethical one except for Ron Paul.

knodeljr said...

This is a very compelling story that I hope to follow. Have posted one link to my FaceBook site. I hope others get interested in it!

oamundsen said...

Thanks,Robert, once again for a totally underreported story otherwise missing for most of us. I am amazed by your research skills as always!

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