Russian tanker reaches ice-bound Alaskan port

Fri Jan 13, 2012 7:53am EST

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* Vessel brings emergency fuel supplies to U.S. town

* Tanker ploughs through two-feet-thick ice on 10-day voyage

By Alissa de Carbonnel

MOSCOW, Jan 13 (Reuters) - A Russian tanker escorted by the U.S. Coast Guard reached the frozen Alaskan port of Nome with emergency fuel supplies on Friday after a 10-day voyage through ice-choked seas, the Russian company that owns the vessel said.

The mission to Nome is the first mid-winter marine delivery to western Alaska and comes as oil and gas development and climate change increase commercial traffic along trade routes in the Arctic.

The Russian ship, the Renda, got an exemption last month from U.S. maritime law for the journey after the city of 3,600 missed its final scheduled barge delivery before winter when one of the worst storms in decades swept the northwest coastal town.

"The Renda has reached Nome. It has stopped 8 miles out at the edge of the ice. People are relieved and resting now. It is night there now," Fazil Aliyev, the general director of the Russian shipping firm that owns the Renda, told Reuters.

"We will start offloading (fuel) in the morning," he said by telephone from Russia's Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok where the company, RIMSCO, is based.

The Renda is carrying about 1.3 million gallons of Arctic-grade diesel and gasoline, according to Vitus Marine, the Anchorage-based company that arranged for the special delivery.

Even with the U.S. Coast Guard's only functioning icebreaker, the Healy, slicing a path for the Renda through Bering Sea ice as thick as 24 inches (60 cm), slow progress had raised doubts about whether it would reach the port.

Emergency deliveries by air would have been needed if the Renda had failed to get to Nome.

The Renda herself has cut across Russia's Arctic coastline several times this year from Europe and Asia. As Arctic ice receded to its second-lowest point on record last summer, Aliyev said RIMSCO took a tanker through the Northern Sea Route as late as November.

"This is routine work for us," he said of the Renda's trip. Only a cautious approach taken by the U.S. Coast Guard and lack of icebreaker experience, slowed the Renda's journey, he said.

"There are many places were we could have easily moved through (the ice) but we are following coast guards' orders. If they say we have to stand still at night, we wait," Aliyev said. (Editing by Louise Ireland)

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