Shell, Coast Guard develop salvage plan for grounded Kulluk rig


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U.S. Coast Guard and Shell officials say a salvage plan for the grounded Shell rig Kulluk is being developed and some details are to be released Thursday. A five-person salvage team was landed on the Kulluk Wednesday along with an Emergency Towing System, officials said in a briefing Wednesday evening.

The Kulluk grounded Dec 31 on a small island of the south shore of Kodiak Island after towlines connecting the rig to tugs were disconnected in bad weather.

A second ETS willl be placed on the Kulluk as soon as weather conditions allow, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said in a situation report it issued separately.

In the Wednesday night briefing Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler said salvage team members were able to get inside the vessel and confirmed that none of the three fuel tanks on the Kulluk have been breached. The tanks are clustered on the inside of the Kulluk well away from the exterior hull, Mehler said.

The vessel is carrying 143,000 gallons of ultra-low sulfur diesel and 12,000 gallons of other petroleum products, the state DEC report said.

Coast Guard, state and Shell officials flew over the site of the grounding Wednesday and reported seeing no sheen from spilled oil or debris other than lifeboats washed from the deck of the Kulluk. The vessel appeared in stable condition, Mehler said. Steve Russell, an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, was along on the flight with Mehler and Shell officials, and said the Kulluk had grounded in about 30 feet of water near a gravel and sand beach.

Weather at the site as of 6:30 p.m. Wednesday was winds from the southeast at 28 to 32 knots with gusts to 40 knots and seas from 6 to 9 feet with occasional waves of 12 feet.

The Kulluk, a conical drilling vessel owned by Shell and used in the Beaufort Sea last summer, had separated from its tug last Friday in bad weather. Tugs reattached towlines Saturday and Sunday only to see them separate again several times.

The Kulluk grounded about 500 ft from the shore on Sitkalidak Island at about 8 p.m. on Dec. 31. Weather conditions at the scene were "severe" at the time, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said.  

Shell was having the Kulluk towed from Dutch Harbor to a Washington state port when the mishap occurred. The Kulluk was used earlier this year to drill in the Alaska Beaufort Sea and is one of two ships used by Shell to drill Arctic offshore exploration wells.

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