U.S. Coast Guard via AP
The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy approaches the Russian-flagged tanker vessel Renda Tuesday evening. Shifting ice has slowed the progress of the paired vessels. The ice tends to close in, cutting off the path between the two ships. When that happens, the icebreaker doubles back and makes a relief cut to take pressure off the tanker and open a pathway.
What a difference a day makes: After cutting through 53 miles of ice on Monday, a seafaring convoy trying to get fuel to ice-bound Nome, Alaska, made just 50 feet of progress through most of Tuesday.
"They were roughly in the same position" as Tuesday morning, U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman Sara Francis confirmed to msnbc.com early Wednesday.
"Unfortunately, as we watch, there has been no real 'change up' in Renda's progress toward Nome since this morning," ship pilot Pete Garay told alaskadispatch.com from the Russian-flagged fuel tanker on Tuesday afternoon as the ice and strong currents prevented any progress.
The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy is trying to break through ice for Renda, but the process can be tedious. Late Tuesday, they were still some 97 miles south of Nome, in northwest Alaska.
The two ships left Alaska's Dutch Harbor on Jan. 3 to deliver 1.3 million gallons of fuel to Nome, whose supplies could run out before the end of winter.
The convoy made progress on Monday. Msnbc.com's Dara Brown reports.
The convoy had hoped to make it to Nome by mid-January but the Coast Guard now says it cannot provide an estimated day of arrival.
Nome gets its fuel by barge but a November storm prevented its winter shipment from arriving before the annual sea ice formed. A fuel barge won't be able to make it in without icebreaker escort until June at the earliest, and Nome -- which has seen temperatures of minus 40 this winter -- could run out of heating oil by March.
One option is to fly in supplies, but that would add $3-$4 per gallon of heating oil or gasoline, which already cost $6 a gallon in Nome. There is no road access to the coastal town of 3,500.
The operation is the first time a fuel ship is trying to reach any western Alaska community cut off by winter sea ice.
Locals are already being warned to stay away from the shoreline if the ships make it.
"We are extremely concerned that the icebreaking vessels offshore may cause fractures in shore fast ice near shore which could potentially pose a serious safety risk to anyone who may be on the ice," Lt. Nicole Auth, Coast Guard safety zone coordinator in Nome, said in a statement Tuesday. "We strongly encourage residents to remain on shore and avoid transiting on the ice as the ships transit in and out of the shore fast ice until the ice has time to re-freeze."
More content from msnbc.com and NBC News: