Shell prepares Kulluk for move

Shell is readying its damaged drill vessel Kulluk to be towed from Kiliuda Bay on Kodiak Island, in southern Alaska, to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians, as the first part of a move to a shipyard in Asia for repairs of damage suffered when the Kulluk grounded Dec. 31 in a storm.

"This decision (to move the vessel) is based on independent review by Det Norske Veritas (DNV) validating that the Kulluk's structural integrity and stability, post grounding, is sound for towing. Shell has received DNV Class Certification and Flag State approval for the Kulluk," wrote the Unified Command, the joint Shell/U.S. Coast Guard team managing the Kulluk incident, in a statement issued Feb. 13.

The statement also said the Unified Command's work is complete, and that Coast Guard and Shell personnel are returning to normal duties.

“The Coast Guard will continue to monitor the activities involved in prepping the Kulluk for movement and I will lift the Captain of the Port order once all the requirements have been met,” said Capt. Paul Mehler III, the Coast Guard federal on-scene coordinator, in the statement.

After weeks of thorough assessment, analysis and on board activity, Shell confirmed that the Kulluk is safe to tow out of Kiliuda Bay, Shell coordinator Sean Churchfield said in the statement.

“The completion of the damage assessment revealed that the inner hull of the Kulluk was not breached and that all fuel tanks remain intact. The outer hull did receive damage as expected with a vessel being aground during adverse weather," the statement said. “In addition, the Kulluk encountered water damage to its superstructure which resulted in damage to technical equipment and a breach of windows and hatches.”

The Kulluk will be towed by three ocean-going tugs to Dutch Harbor and accompanied by the response vessel Nanuq. The transit time is approximately 10 days, the statement said. At Dutch Harbor the drill vessel will be prepared for its "dry-tow" to a shipyard in Asia, which will be done with a specialized heavy-lift vessel.

The Kulluk was used by Shell in its 2012 summer exploration in the Arctic. It was being towed from Dutch Harbor to Seattle for winter maintenance in December when it encountered a severe storm in the Gulf of Alaska south of Kodiak. Shell was able to move the Kulluk off the gravel beach where it had grounded and to the protected Kiliuda Bay, about 30 miles away, on Jan. 6.

The company is making no predictions on whether the Kulluk, as well as the Noble Discoverer, a second drill ship Shell had used, can be returned to the Arctic in time for Shell’s planned 2013 drilling season. Federal rules require the company to have two drillships in the region when drilling to hydrocarbon-bearing formations is underway so that one can come to the assistance of the other if there is a problem.

02/14/2013 - 7:09am