The 420-foot long Healy, a Seattle-based Coast Guard cutter, is crunching its way through sheets of ice two and three feet thick as it pushes toward frozen Nome, Alaska. The small city on the Bering Sea is in dire need of petroleum, and the Healy's crucial mission is to pave the way for an ice-choked Russian tanker to make a delivery of more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel.
"This is a first for us -- to help make this kind of fuel delivery and to do it this time of year," Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class David Mosley tells the Daily Weekly.
Mosley says the Healy is 18 miles from Nome and averaging about 8 knots, breaking ice in its wake as it escorts the Russian-flagged tanker Renda to the fuel-starved city.
"We've had to traverse 300 miles of ice," adds Mosley. "Getting to Nome is only half the battle. The hard part is overseeing, offloading it and making sure the fuel transfer is successful and then cutting through ice again on the way out."
Nome, a city of about 3,600 residents, is enduring a record cold spell and will run out of petroleum by March. The current temperature is 26 below zero.
Commander Greg Tiapa says the Healy is slicing through new ice that shifts quickly and, as a result, the cutter is forced to double back and break the ice again.
Mosely says the Healy can move through ice as thick as 4 1/2 feet and is expected to reach Nome as early as tomorrow or Thursday.