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Nome, Alaska (AFP) Jan 21, 2012
A Russian tanker's crew headed for home Saturday -- warmed by a pizza-and-beer sendoff -- after delivering fuel in a dramatic winter operation helped by a US ice-breaker ship.
Locals in Nome, on Alaska's western coast across the Bering Sea from the Russian Far East, voiced gratitude for the delivery to their 3,500-strong community, which is ice-locked for months over the winter.
"I am so sorry to see them leave. It is so quiet in here without them," said Andrea Surina, who works at the Polar Cafe, where the Coast Guard gathered to eat during the week-long mission.
The Vladivostok-based Renda followed its escort the US Coast Guard Healy into the mist, leaving Nome after supplying 1.3 million gallons of fuel to top off the ice-locked town's winter fuel supply.
The Russian ship had arrived a week earlier after battling for more than 10 days across 300 miles (480 kilometers) of Arctic ice to reach Nome, having to be repeatedly helped by the Healy, leading the way.
The remote town did not get its usual pre-winter oil delivery due to a storm, necessitating the unprecedented operation to bring fuel in during winter.
A special waiver had to be granted to allow the Renda to head to the rescue, as under a 1920 law only US-owned and operated vessels are allowed to make such deliveries.
The two ships finally arrived near Nome late last week, although it took several days to move the tanker into position and start pumping fuel, a process that eventually ended Thursday.
In a farewell gesture to 22 crewmen on the Russian tanker -- who were not allowed to come ashore because of US Customs regulations -- Surina organized a pizza delivery to the Renda.
"I got the idea to make them a pizza party to show appreciation. I sent it out on a snow machine and sled.
"Here we are in our houses warm and comfortable, food on our tables, home for the holidays. They were willing to do this, leave their families through the holidays and make this trip.
"We appreciate the idea that we have fuel now. Nome won't run out."
She recounted how she spent two days battling with logistics, customs issues and security to deliver the tasty gift -- ending up by calling the governor's office, and finally getting permission.
"So we boxed up blueberry pie, apple pie, vanilla bean and chocolate ice cream. That took care of dessert. For a main course we asked Bill Howell at Airport Pizza to donate four huge pizzas. He did.
"Then we got them two cases of Alaskan Amber beer."
Howell himself added: "We made those Russian guys some pizza because it was the right thing to do. They helped us out. They had a mission. They accomplished their mission. I wanted to express my thanks."
After leaving Nome on Saturday, the Renda and Healy will battle together through the ice. Once out of it the ships will separate, the Healy heading to Seattle for maintenance.
Mark Smith, head of Vitus Marine, the company that chartered the Renda for the fuel delivery, said ice and wind conditions could be favorable for the ship's return to Vladivostok.
Forecasts suggested 100-150 miles of open water were opening up, he said before the tanker and its US escort left. "They are optimistic that if they can get away from shore-fast ice they can make some rapid progress," he said.
"It's all about ice conditions, but once the Renda is free of the ice pack, they are probably 10 days away from home port in Vladivostok."
Beyond the Ice Age
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