An ice-breaking Russian tanker won an exemption from U.S. maritime law on Friday allowing it to deliver fuel to the isolated Alaska city of Nome, the state’s two U.S. senators announced.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted a Jones Act waiver to the Russian ship, the Renda, which is scheduled to deliver diesel fuel and gasoline to the Alaska city of 3,600 people, the senators said.
Senator Mark Begich said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano responded to pleas for a Jones Act exception to help alleviate what could be a serious winter fuel shortage.
"This is great news for Nome residents who either faced a long, cold winter or soaring energy costs," Begich said in a written statement.
"This decision also recognizes Nome’s key strategic position adjacent to the Bering Straits as well as the Coast Guard’s need for maintained facilities to monitor our northern border," he said.
If successful, the voyage will provide the first ever marine delivery of petroleum products to a western Alaska city in winter, officials said.
Nome, which has no outside road connections and relies on marine vessels or aircraft for shipment of goods, missed its last regular fall delivery of 1.6 million gallons of fuel.
The problem was attributed to bad weather, including a severe November storm that was considered the worst to hit northwestern Alaska in decades.
With the onset of winter, Nome is now ice-locked, Begich said. The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy, which is more powerful than the Russian ship, is scheduled to guide the tanker into Nome, he said.
The Renda is carrying about 1 million gallons of Arctic-grade diesel that was loaded in Korea and is scheduled to pick up 300,000 to 400,000 gallons of gasoline at the Alaska port of Dutch Harbor, said Mark Smith, chief executive of Vitus Marine, the Anchorage-based company that arranged for the Russian ship to make the special delivery.