Uncertainty remains over fuel as cause of engine failures


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During the final afternoon of the Coast Guard’s hearing regarding the Dec. 31, 2012, grounding of the Kulluk drill rig, a skipper from the tow vessel pulling the drilling unit said its fuel came from Delta Western Inc.

Capt. Jon Skoglund, the Aiviq’s master was the final person to give testimony during two weeks of hearings that were part of the Coast Guard’s marine casualty investigation into the grounding of the Kulluk on New Year’s Eve in the Gulf of Alaska.

The Kulluk was used in Shell’s Arctic drilling operations in summer 2012, and was on its way to Seattle for upgrades when bad weather and other issues arose, and the vessel was grounded. The Kulluk, towed by the Aiviq, left Dutch Harbor Dec. 21.

The Aiviq was built with capabilities specifically to tow the Kulluk.

The failure of all four engines on the Aiviq Dec. 27 has been cited as one of the major issues that cropped up during the voyage. Prior witnesses talked about a fuel issue causing the engine troubles.

There was some discussion, by people not on the Aiviq, of water getting into the fuel. But those on the Aiviq said they thought it the issue was slime.

Skoglund said no water was found in the fuel, but that the tanks had not been treated to prevent algae growth. Skoglund said May 31 that the Aiviq fueled up with 440,000 gallons of diesel from Delta Western before leaving Dutch Harbor.

Shell paid for the fuel and received the certification for it, Skoglund said, so he wasn’t aware of an additive in it.

Carl Broekhuis, chief engineer on the Aiviq, testified earlier in the hearings that he thought an additive caused the problematic slime.

In an email, Shell representative Curtis Smith declined to answer further questions about the certification and whether or not it mentioned an additive, citing the ongoing investigation.

In an email, Delta Western President Kirk Payne wrote that the company tested the fuel as usual, and didn’t think it had any issues.

“Per the Delta Western Quality Assurance Program, Delta Western tested the fuel that went on the Aiviq and found it to conform to the appropriate ASTM specification,” he wrote. “We use best practices to ensure that our fuel meets or exceeds ASTM Standards. “

Broekhuis also said in his testimony that he had heard about fishing vessels out of Dutch having problems with bad fuel as well.

Payne didn’t know of any such problems.

“Delta Western is not aware of additive issues with deliveries to fishing vessels last winter,” Payne wrote.

After the Aiviq’s engines failed, the crew managed to bring them back online. Help also came from other tows and the Coast Guard.

Skoglund said his crew did an outstanding job of getting the engines back on while they were underway.

And the fuel problem wasn’t the only issue during the tow. Rough weather and a failed shackle also complicated the voyage. No one is certain why the shackle failed. Skoglund confirmed that he would have expected a different part to fail first.

Skoglund also talked about the route the Kulluk and Aiviq took after leaving Dutch. He initially thought it would be best to take the great circle route, which went through deeper water. That route would have allowed a longer tow line, which was better in rough weather, Skoglund said.

But Shell wanted the Kulluk to stay within search and research range, which meant being closer to shore, in case a crewmember needed medical assistance. The near shore route was ultimately chosen, and Skoglund said he understood those concerns. Had he thought it was unsafe, he would have raised a concern, he said.

Skoglund was also asked about whether or not he felt his crew was prepared for the weather in the Gulf of Alaska. Although it was nasty, he said, the Gulf of Mexico’s hurricane season is also challenging, and probably helped prepare them.

 

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

 

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