Russian Icebreaker to Make History in Alaska

Photo courtesy of Elaine Smiloff, Adak Harbormaster

A failed marine delivery of 1.6 million gallons of fuel due to November’s storm spurred the leadership at the Sitnasuak Native Corporation in Nome to get creative. They’re looking to Russian and Korean companies to keep fuel costs down in the Western Alaskan community.

Sitnasuak and a Russian shipping company may very well make history this month. Sitnasuak Native Corporation has signed a contract with Vitus Marine to deliver 1.5 million gallons of fuel to Nome – via marine tanker. The delivery in the double-hulled Ice Classed Russian tanker is scheduled for late December and will replace the 1.6 million gallons that was not delivered by Delta Western due to the November storm.

If the newly-planned delivery is successful, Sitnasuak Board Chairman Jason Evans says the voyage will mark the first time a marine fuel delivery is made to a Western Alaska community in winter.

Evans says, overall, while untraditional, the icebreaking option is significantly lower in costs than flying fuel to Nome. He says there are too many variables at this point for a specific number that consumers will eventually pay.

The Russian vessel, the Renda is currently in Vladivostok, Russia and will be inspected by the Coast Guard on Wednesday. The Jones Act states that a foreign vessel cannot carry cargo from the U.S. to the U.S., so the fuel will be purchased in Inchon Korea. Evans says there will be added costs to this mode of delivery.

When it comes to Delta Western – the company that did not deliver the original fuel purchase – Vice President Kirk Payne says he’s not sure what fair share means.

Payne says there are no lawyers involved and nothing has been filed. He says a dialogue continues between the two companies.

The double-hulled Ice-Class Russian tanker the Renda is certified to travel through four feet of ice and recently traveled through five feet of ice while delivering fuel to the Russian Far East. It’s unclear whether the Renda will dock at the inner or outer harbor once it arrives in Nome. The tanker has two kilometers of hose that could be put over the ice to the fuel depot.

The U.S. Coast Guard is getting approval for the U.S.’s only icebreaker – the Healy – to remain in the area until the delivery is made.

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Laureli Kinneen is a reporter at KNOM in Nome.

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