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Drill ship pulled from rocks

Posted: January 7, 2013 - 11:02pm
This aerial photo shows a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter sling a trailer aboard the Shell floating drill rig in Kodiak Island, Alaska's Kiliuda Bay on Monday afternoon, Jan. 7, 2013, as salvage teams conduct an in-depth assessment of its seaworthiness. The Kulluk, which ran aground a week ago on Sitkalidak Island near Kodiak, was taken to Kiliuda Bay for repairs and a survey. (AP Photo/Kodiak Daily Mirror, James Brooks)  AP
This aerial photo shows a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter sling a trailer aboard the Shell floating drill rig in Kodiak Island, Alaska's Kiliuda Bay on Monday afternoon, Jan. 7, 2013, as salvage teams conduct an in-depth assessment of its seaworthiness. The Kulluk, which ran aground a week ago on Sitkalidak Island near Kodiak, was taken to Kiliuda Bay for repairs and a survey. (AP Photo/Kodiak Daily Mirror, James Brooks)

ANCHORAGE — A large floating drill rig that ran aground a week ago on a remote Alaska island arrived as planned Monday in the shelter of a Kodiak Island bay after being towed about 45 miles through swells as high as 15 feet, officials said.

The Royal Dutch Shell PLC vessel was lifted off rocks late Sunday and towed away from the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island, where it sat exposed to the full-on fury of Gulf of Alaska winter storms since grounding near the beach there on New Year’s Eve.

The Kulluk — a circular barge with a diameter as long as nearly three basketball courts — was towed for about 12 hours to the protected waters in Kiliuda Bay, where it will undergo further inspection, including an underwater look at its hull.

“We could not be more impressed with the caliber of the response and recovery crews who were safe and meticulous in their effort to move the Kulluk offshore,” Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith said by email.

The vessel will remain in the bay 43 miles southwest of the city of Kodiak until inspectors review its condition and the Coast Guard clears it to travel. Shell incident commander Sean Churchfield said there’s no timetable for departure.

“Until we have that damage assessment, we’ll not be able to develop those plans,” Churchfield said at a news conference Monday.

The massive effort to move and salvage the ship involves more than 730 people, according to the Unified Command, which includes the Coast Guard, Shell and contractors involved in the tow and salvage operation. Eleven people are aboard the ship — a salvage crew of 10 people and one Shell representative

Shell earlier reported superficial damage above the deck and seawater that entered through open hatches. Water has knocked out regular and emergency generators, but portable generators were put on board last week.

The Kulluk is 266 feet in diameter with a derrick in its middle and a funnel-shaped, reinforced steel hull that allows it to operate in ice. Its derrick rises 160 feet. The barge drilled last year in the Beaufort Sea and was headed to Seattle for upgrades and maintenance when it ran into trouble.

Its towing vessel, the 360-foot anchor handler Aiviq, on Dec. 27 lost its line to the Kulluk in heavy seas and hours later lost power to all four of its engines, possibly due to contaminated fuel.

Four reattached lines between the Aiviq or other vessels also broke in stormy weather. The Aiviq on New Year’s Eve again broke its line, leaving the Kulluk attached to the tugboat Alert.

Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler, the federal on-scene coordinator, said Monday the Alert also experienced a mechanical problem the night the Kulluk went aground. The agency is investigating.

“The understanding the night of the response was that when she was taking maximum power, there was an engine problem,” Mehler said. “They did recover that within 30 minutes. The details of that, I couldn’t answer yet.”

Inspections after the grounding determined that the Kulluk could be towed, and the Aiviq on Sunday reattached a tow line. Tension was added to test the line Sunday night and increased as high tide approached, Churchfield said.

He was not on scene but did not hear of complications.

“The Kulluk came off reasonably easy, would be my assessment,” he said.

Mehler said he was in the command center when salvors reported the Kulluk had come off the rocks.

“I won’t say that I saw anyone high-fiving,” Mehler said. “I’ll say there was certainly a sense of relief, but recognizing now we have a lot more work to do.”

Likewise, the tow “has gone pretty much according to plan,” Churchfield said.

Inspections will involve an underwater look at the hull with divers or remotely operated underwater vehicles or divers or both, he said.

The Kulluk will be tethered to two tugs in the bay and will attempt to set its anchor. If that doesn’t work, he said, additional tugs will be used to keep it in place. Four more tugs were on scene Monday.

A tug trailing the drill vessel used infrared equipment to watch for oil sheens and reported no petroleum discharge.

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Erinyes 01/09/13 - 02:25 pm

No one hurt, no spill - hopefully lessons learned and it wont get lost again. Lets see if Kodiak scores some tax revenue out of the deal - it was on their land and in their waters.

Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 01/09/13 - 04:32 pm
I know Whew.

Probably no answers will come forth as to why this thing was allowed to drift with out some form of anchor system on it. Or did it not hold or broke or what? But stuff does happen, does it not? My question is why the drilling units any how in alaska waters? We don't have any oil or gas no more around alaska thats worth wasting time and money on drilling for, OR DO WE? Maybe they'll slip up and some one will spill the beans about this.

JOAT 01/11/13 - 10:19 am
Pathetic over coverage

Watching the media and environmental freaks response to this minor incident has been like watching school girls screaming for joy at a Beetles concert. Just about every claim of doom was wrong, blame was wrong, and facts were just flat out wrong. Seeing these enviro-nuts on TV showing such thrilled giddiness at the incident makes me sick at how evil and twisted these people really are. Agenda 21, folks.

1- This didn't happen in the Arctic Ocean. It was in the Pacific in the Gulf of Alaska. You'd think they could at least get the right ocean.

2- Shell had nothing to do with it. While it is there rig, they don't move their own stuff. That duty falls to the massive world-wide shipping company, Crowley Maritime Services. Blaming Shell is like blaming Amazon when FedEx has a weather delay on getting a package to your house.

3- Crowley did it by the book and made all the right decisions. They were towing a barge and there was an equipment failure (tow line broke). This happens on the ocean every day and all over the world. Crowley immediately called for assistance from other Crowley tugs in the region, who responded. Multiple tugs were not able to gain control of the barge due to the weather, but they were able to guide it to a good spot for it to ground itself. Crews were evacuated and preparations were made for a worst case scenario (fuel spill).

4- Barge grounded as predicted and Crowley response vessels remained on site throughout. No spills and no injuries. All hands safe. That is the most important part of every operation and this one was a success.

5- Barge surveyed and found to have only minor damage. Since the barge was built to withstand arctic ice pack, it survived the grounding very well. A lesser barge would have been sent to dave jone's locker.

6- Barge easily re-floated at high tide and towed to port for full evaluation of the hull prior to continuing down to Seattle for dry dock maintenance. Hull seems intact and there are no fuel leaks. This barge has withstood and passed one of the most challenging tests that you can put any boat hull through. Kudos for designing and building such a great floating platform. Excellent work Crowley.

And what is up with this call for more Coast Guard in the Arctic? The CG doesn't move barges, tug companies do. That's like saying we need more troopers to deal with towing broken cars. Huh? We need more tow trucks, not cops.


Suss 01/11/13 - 12:17 pm

Aiviq is owned by Edison Chouest Offshore (ECO). and chartered by Royal Dutch Shell. December 31 tax day for vessels in Alaska unless more than 3 miles off the coast.

When the official report comes out you will not find many Alaskan names among the list of crewmembers on the tug or the rig.

Coast Guard rescues 18 Souls

Captain's Bay, Dutch Harbor (Count the tugs in this protected harbor)

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