Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

U.S. icebreaker escorts Russian tanker in historic mission

On January 3, 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy and Russian tanker, Renda, departed Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to deliver 1.3 million gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline to the isolated community of Nome on Alaska’s west coast. The mission followed fall delivery attempts foiled by foul weather and shipping delays. Renda’s delivery boosted Nome’s dwindling fuel reserves, a critical resupply in the heart of winter.

We’ve borrowed a fun youTube video of the outbound escort – check it out.

The Healy escorted the Renda from the ice edge near Nunivak Island through 300 miles of sea ice – a journey that took eight days. The cutter is capable of breaking through about 4.5 feet of ice easily and through up to 8 feet of ice in a process called backing-and-ramming (repeatedly running into the same spot until the ship breaks through). A specially-designed, reinforced, blunted bow allows the Healy to ride the ship’s front end up on the ice.  The 8-ton ship acts as an ice-crushing lever, splintering sea ice in a wide multidirectional swath. The ship’s hull shape also causes the ice to overturn, thereby creating plenty of  space behind the ship for Renda to follow.

Once the duo arrived at Nome on January 14, crews purposefully froze Renda into the ice to ensure a stable and safe platform for fuel delivery through two fuel hoses stretched across the ice to on-shore fuel tank storage – a two-day process.

Following successful mission completion on January 18, Healy helped Renda become unstuck from her parking space and the two vessels made the return trip through 360 miles of sea ice. At the ice edge, reached on January 29, the ships parted ways for their home ports of Seattle and Vladivostok. –Marcy Davis

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