The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy showed up off the coast of Nome Thursday, just days after a barge loaded with gasoline, diesel fuel, and heating fuel had to turn away because it couldn’t get through shore ice.
Residents spotted the Healy early Thursday morning, and Coast Guard spokesperson Petty Officer David Mosley confirmed the arrival later in the day.
It is on its way home from a research trip north of Barrow and is scheduled to return to its home port of Seattle at the end of the month, Mosley said.
Sen. Mark Begich sent a letter to Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp Thursday morning, highlighting the need for more icebreakers off Alaska’s coast, especially after the cancelled fuel delivery, which was expected to be the last one of the open water season.
“Elsewhere in our nation, the Coast Guard frequently operates icebreakers and icebreaking tugs to keep waterways open and to allow for delivery of fuel and other critical commodities,” Begich wrote.
Fuel suppliers say they’ll have to fly fuel in to Nome, at much higher cost.
"It could be pretty outrageous, the prices," Jeremy Nassuk, Nome airport fueler for Crowley Marine Services, Inc., told the Associated Press.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, when she learned the Healy was nearby, also sent a letter to the Coast Guard, requesting that the Healy clear the ice jam which is preventing the fuel barge from getting in.
By 2:00 pm Thursday, the Healy had moved farther offshore.
"They just turned around and left," said Peggy Fagerstrom, a local photographer in Nome.
A Coast Guard spokesperson said the ship is continuing its research in nearby waters, while officials explore options for helping the city of Nome with its fuel shortage.
"We understand the situation and the critical need," said Lt. Veronica Colbath.
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