UPDATED: Kulluk reaches safe harbor


Shell’s drill vessel Kulluk is now in protected waters in Kiliuda Bay on the east side of Kodiak Island, according to the joint U.S. Coast Guard and Shell team managing the situation.

As of 10 a.m. Monday the Kulluk and six tugs accompanying it were about one mile from the anchorage site, Shell's Alaska operations manager, Sean Churchfield, said in a briefing Monday morning.

Further inspections are planned at Kiliuda Bay, Churchfield said.

The rig, which grounded Dec. 31 in a storm, was refloated at about 10 p.m. Sunday night and moved to the bay overnight, a 30-mile distance from the site where the Kulluk grounded.

Churchfield said it is uncertain how long the Kulluk will be in the bay. Underwater inspections of the hull must be conducted in a damage assessment. He said the inspection plan is still being developed and it is still uncertain whether divers or Remote Controlled Vehicles or both will be involved.

"There were no reported injuries and no indication of an oil spill resulting from the pull-off from the grounding. The Nanuq, a spill response vessel (accompanying the tow), has a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) thermal imaging system on board used to survey for fuel on the water surface," Shannon Miller, a specialist with the Alaska Department of Conservation, said in a statement from the agency.

The towline was attached to the Kulluk on Sunday after an attempt to place the towling Saturday failed due to bad weather. The extraction of the rig began at maximum high tide, and the Kulluk refloated “relatively easily,” he said in the Monday briefing.

Churchfield said Saturday that naval architects have certified the Kulluk was ready to be towed. A substantial amount of equipment has been moved into the area to support the salvage operations and the tow, with heavy equipment moved by two U.S. Army CH-48 Chinook helicopters made available by the U.S. Department of Defense, Mehler said.

Steven Russell, an official with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said there was no evidence of an oil sheen or other leakage during the tow. The Kulluk is carrying fuel and some other oil products in tanks, but inspections showed the tanks had not been damaged.

Inspections at the grounding site showed that some damage to topside parts of the Kulluk had occurred due to waves, and that a small amount of water had leaked into the vessel interior causing some damage to electrical systems.

Difficulties for the Kulluk began on December 28, when the towline connecting the rig vessel to a Shell-contracted tug towing it separated in rough weather. At almost the same time, engines on the tow vessel Alviq quit, a failure that may have been caused by contaminated fuel, according to sources familiar with the incident.

The engines were restarted and the tow reattached only to be separated again several times, even with more tugs brought to the scene and repeated attaching of towlines.

The weather worsened over the next three days. Late Dec. 31, the towline to the Kulluk from the tug Alert, which was also having engine problems, was ordered to be disconnected as the drill vessel drifted toward shore in high wind.

The Kulluk grounded about 500 feet offshore a gravel and sand beach on Sitkalidak Island, near the south coast of Kodiak Island, about 8 p.m. Dec. 31.

Shell was having the Kulluk towed across the Gulf of Alaska from Dutch Harbor, an Aleutians port, to Seattle for winter maintenance when the tug and drill vessel were caught in a storm. The Kulluk had been used last fall to drill an offshore exploration well for Shell in the Alaska Beaufort Sea.



01/07/2013 - 7:15am