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Fuel transfer runs smoothly in iced-in Alaska city

ANCHORAGE - A Russian tanker that went on an ocean odyssey of 5,000 miles to deliver fuel to the iced-in city of Nome was offloading the gasoline and diesel in what officials say is smooth sailing so far.

Two parallel hoses, 700 yards long each, are stretched between the tanker Renda and a pipeline that will deliver 1.3 million gallons of fuel to storage tanks near Nome’s harbor. The offloading began with gasoline, and then both gasoline and diesel were being transferred separately.

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Jason Evans, board chairman of Sitnasuak Native Corp., the company that arranged for the fuel delivery, said yesterday that the tanker’s two hoses are pumping between 30,000 and 40,000 gallons of fuel an hour.

One section of hose was switched out without incident early yesterday after a bubble was thought to be in the line, Evans said. There have been no spills since the pumping operation began Monday evening.

This is the first time petroleum products have been delivered to a western Alaska community by sea in winter, and it relied on a Coast Guard icebreaker that cleared a path for the tanker over hundreds of miles. The mayor said festivities were planned, including a Coast Guard helicopter landing on the beach so children can look inside. Officials also set a basketball game between residents and Coast Guard crew members, who were invited to a pizza dinner.

The transfer could take from 36 hours to five days. It started near sundown Monday, after crews laid the hoses along a stretch of Bering Sea ice to the pipeline that begins on a rock causeway 550 yards from the tanker, Evans said.

The city of 3,500 didn’t get its last prewinter fuel delivery by barge because of a massive November storm. Without the Renda’s delivery, Nome would have run out of fuel by April.

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