Coast Guard: Check shows no damage to Shell ship

An inspection of a Shell drilling ship that lost its mooring and drifted toward shore of an Alaska Island showed no signs of damage or grounding, the Coast Guard said Sunday.

Initial estimates showed the Noble Discoverer came within 100 yards of shore in Dutch Harbor before it was towed farther off shore and re-anchored Saturday, said Petty Officer Sara Francis. No injuries, leaks or pollution have been reported.

Francis said the Coast Guard would continue to evaluate that estimate. The Guard planned to review images of the hull of the 571-foot vessel that were taken Sunday, when Shell representatives sent down a remote-operated vehicle.

A Dutch Harbor captain, Kristjan Laxfoss, disputed the number, saying that he took photos that appeared to show the vessel came much closer to the shore. Laxfoss said the vessel was not moving and appeared grounded.

"There's no question it hit the beach," he said. "That ship was not coming any closer. It was on the beach."

Shell was bringing in divers to check the ship as a precaution on Monday, company spokesman Curtis Smith said. Francis said the Coast Guard was not onboard during Shell's inspection of the vessel.

Smith said he couldn't comment on Laxfoss's photo because he was not at the site. He said the vessel's crew didn't feel any impact or vibrations that would indicate a grounding and that Sunday's inspection showed no abrasions consistent with a grounding.

The oil company's priority was to make sure the "Discoverer is undamaged and ready to drill," Smith said.

A soft seabed that allowed the ship to drag its anchor and winds of up to 35 mph probably contributed to the anchor problem, Francis said.

The plan was to move the Discoverer to the Dutch Harbor city pier, where the divers will inspect the exterior and the Coast Guard will assess the interior, Francis said.

The Noble Discoverer is one of two Shell ships that will drill exploratory oil wells in the Arctic waters of Alaska's Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Dutch Harbor is about 600 miles southwest of Kodiak.

Leading national conservation groups oppose the drilling because they fear oil spills in ice-choked ocean waters.

"Shell can't keep (its) drill rig under control in a protected harbor, so what will happen when it faces 20 foot swells and sea ice while drilling in the Arctic?" Greenpeace said in a statement.


07/16/2012 - 7:43am