Kulluk in stable condition

In this Monday, Jan. 28, 2013 photo, the tug Sisuaq and the barge Tuuq are shrouded by snow near towing equipment at City Pier 2 in Kodiak, Alaska. The Sisuaq is among the ships participating in the recovery of the drilling rig Kulluk. (AP Photo/Kodiak Daily Mirror, James Brooks)

ANCHORAGE — The united command overseeing the salvage of the Royal Dutch Shell PLC drill barge says the vessel’s damage poses no threat to its stability while it’s anchored off an Alaska island.


But spokesman Kevin Hardy said Wednesday he could not answer whether hull damage will make the Kulluk unsuitable for towing, whether it could be moved by heavy lift ship rather than by towing, or whether it will be moved for repairs to an Asia shipyard rather than a Pacific Northwest shipyard.

“The evaluation continues,” Hardy said in regard to hull damage. “When there’s something to report, I presume, that will be reported as appropriate.”

He referred other questions to Shell. Spokesman Curtis Smith said he did not have new information to pass on. Details of future actions will depend on the outcome of ongoing assessments and permissions.

“I’m not going to speculate on potential next steps,” he said.

The Kulluk is a 266-foot diameter drilling barge that worked last year in the Beaufort Sea during the short open water season. It has a funnel-shape, reinforced steel hull designed to operate in ice. Its most prominent feature is a 160-foot derrick centered in the round vessel.

The Kulluk was built in 1983 for a Canadian company and purchased by Shell in 2005.

The 360-foot anchor handler Aiviq in December was towing the Kulluk to Seattle when the vessels ran into trouble in rough Gulf of Alaska water.

A tow line was lost Dec. 27. A day later, all four engines on the Aiviq failed, possibly due to contaminated fuel. The vessel’s crew eventually regained power but four subsequent tow lines attached by the Aiviq or other vessels also failed and the Kulluk ran aground New Year’s Eve on Sitkalidak Island near Kodiak Island.

On Jan. 6, as a high tide lifted the Kulluk, it was pulled off the rocky bottom by the Aiviq and towed to protected waters in Kiliuda Bay within Kodiak Island.

The salvage operation is under the direction of a unified command made up of Shell, the Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the Kodiak Island Borough. Smit Salvage, a Holland-based salvage company, and Norway-based Det Norske Veritas, which inspects and evaluates the condition of vessels, are assisting.

The unified command Wednesday issued a terse update to the salvage operation. The official statement said tow equipment had been secured and was 43 miles away in the city of Kodiak.

Openings on the main deck of the drill barge, including windows and hatches, have been secured. Temporary steel structures have been added to some so that they will remain water-tight “for potential tow operations.”

Naval architects, according to the united command, said damage poses no threat to the stability or integrity of the Kulluk “while anchored in Kiliuda Bay.” The next step, the statement said, as it has since Jan. 12, will be an analysis of damage assessment data to determine how to move the Kulluk for permanent repairs.

“The UC (united command) will not speculate on this next step until the DNV (Det Norske Veritas) and USCG give their recommendations for safely relocating the Kulluk,” the statement said.

The Gulf of Alaska is notorious for foul weather, strong wind and high waves. Moving the Kulluk by heavy lift ship would eliminate the chance that tow lines could again separate.