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Fuel mission to iced-in Alaska town

Crews have begun transferring 1.3 million gallons of fuel from a Russian fuel tanker to the iced-in western Alaska city of Nome.

The offloading began near sundown, said Stacey Smith of Vitus Marine, the fuel supplier that arranged to have the Russian tanker Renda and its crew deliver the petrol and diesel fuel. The process began after crews safety-tested two transfer hoses with pressurised air.

Earlier, crews laid the hoses along a stretch of Bering Sea ice. On Monday they hooked the hoses to a pipeline that begins on a rock causeway 550 yards from the tanker, which is moored about half a mile offshore, said Jason Evans, board chairman of the Sitnasuak Native Corporation.

Sitnasuak owns the local fuel company, Bonanza Fuel, and has been working closely with Vitus Marine. The pipeline leads to storage tanks in town.

Ms Smith said the transfer began with one hose to see how the fuel flowed. She expected the second hose to begin flowing soon after.

State officials said the transfer must start during daylight, but could continue in darkness. Nome has just five hours of daylight this time of year.

The transfer could be finished within 36 hours if everything goes smoothly, but it could take as long as five days.

The Renda got into position on Saturday night after a coastguard icebreaker cleared a path for it through hundreds of miles of a slow journey stalled by thick ice and strong ocean currents. Before the hoses could be laid out, the ice disturbed by the tanker's journey had to freeze again so workers could create some sort of roadway.

Ms Smith said the effort was a third of the way into completion with the arrival of the Renda to Nome. Pumping the fuel from the tanker will be the second part. The third part will be the exiting through ice by the two ships.

The city of 3,500 did not get its last pre-winter barge fuel delivery because of a massive November storm. Without the Renda's delivery, Nome would run out of fuel by March or April, long before the next barge delivery is possible after one of the most severe Alaska winters in decades.

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