In November 2011, I was in my first year working as the Web Director for KNOM Radio in Nome, Alaska, when a massive autumn storm battered the Bering Sea coastline and sent back south an ocean tanker bringing vitally needed fuel to town.

Before a second delivery attempt could be made, winter arrived in the sub-Arctic, and the ocean, as it always does, froze over. The fuel delivery was no longer possible — at least, not by traditional means. It took a Coast Guard icebreaker, the Healy, and the Russian tanker Renda, working together, to bring the fuel to ice-locked Nome a few months later.

The stern of the Renda, indicating the heavy icebreaker’s home port is Vladivostok, Russia. Note the thin “moat” of open water close to the Renda’s hull before the water gives way to sea ice. The U.S. Coast Guard’s Healy is visible in the background, to the east.

And while the story made national headlines, poor traveling conditions meant that few journalists from Anchorage or the Lower 48 were in Nome when the lights of the two icebreakers first pierced the inky dark of our Bering Sea horizon.

The Renda sits on the frozen Bering Sea, a quarter-mile offshore of Nome, Alaska.

KNOM’s radio newscasts were paired, online, with images of the Healy and Renda making their historic journey, cutting through the frozen ocean. When they finally made it within a quarter-mile of the shore, I accompanied a KNOM reporter out onto the sea ice and, several minutes later, became one of the only photojournalists in the United States to step aboard the Renda.

I became one of the only photojournalists in the United States to step aboard the Renda.

Almost no one spoke English, so the portraits I posted on KNOM’s Facebook profile later that night of the crew had been facilitated through handshakes and smiles and simple gestures of gratitude. Through digital media, thousands of people shared in it.

Michail Shestakov, supply and logistics manager with Vitus Marine, onboard the Renda on Wednesday, January 18, 2012. Shestakov had been with the vessel since its departure from Dutch Harbor and served as a Russian interpreter for the Renda’s captain, Sergey Kopytov.
Sergey Kopytov, captain of the Russian tanker Renda, pictured inside his quarters.
A member of the Russian tanker’s crew.

People who would have otherwise only heard our story on the fuel delivery got to go one step further: they walked on the Renda’s ice-battered decks with us, met its captain face-to-face, and saw a rare sight: the skyline of a rural Alaska town as viewed from atop the frozen ocean.

From the Bering Sea ice, the Russian tanker continued to deliver fuel, framed by Nome’s distant fuel tanks to the north (bottom right).


Leave a Reply