Coast Guard drills down on failed shackle at Kulluk hearing

The Coast Guard today continued its investigation into the grounding of the Kulluk drillship with testimony from a contractor responsible for helping get the tow equipment setup.

Investigators questions William Hebert, a rig move coordinator for Delmar Systems, Inc. Hebert was part of the team that readied the Kulluk for its move from Seattle to Alaska in 2012, and then prepared it to return from Dutch Harbor to Seattle in December.

It was the failure of a shackle that led to an initial break of the towline Dec. 27 even before rough weather hit. That began a cascade of events including additional towline breaks and engine failures as the storm worsened. The conical drilling unit grounded in the Gulf of Alaska Dec. 31.

The hearing includes a look at how thoroughly Shell and its inspectors were in assessing the components of the tow array before the voyage began.

Hebert’s questioning revolved largely around a shackle that failed Dec. 27.

Hebert said he was the person who found the shackles in Seattle earlier in the year. He thought they looked new at that time because the paint was still on them, they had all pieces intact and the crate appeared new as well. If Hebert had seen signs of wear, he would have reported it, he said.

Hebert said he knew the shackle was 120-ton because the size was forged onto it.

The original certification for the tow components listed a smaller size, although the same piece was on the rig.

Hebert said Delmar was responsible for ordering some of the equipment needed and assisting with installation, but ultimately it all belonged to Noble or Shell. Hebert reported to Shell’s John Kaighin, he said.

Hebert was also involved in other discussions about switching out certain parts of the towing equipment to ensure a safe voyage. He agreed with a characterization, based on the number of questions asked and suggestions made about the equipment before the Kulluk left Dutch Harbor, that the various participants in the vessel transit paid significant attention to the composition of the tow set up.

Hebert’s testimony came after the investigator heard from Tony Flynn May 25. Flynn is a marine warranty investigator with Houston-based Noble Denton, which had been hired by Shell to certify the equipment used in the tow. He inspected the ship prior to the tow beginning.

Tomorrow, the hearing will continue with testimony from USCG Capt. Paul Mehler beginning at 1 p.m. in the Anchorage Assembly chambers at Loussac Library.


Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected]. Journal reporter Tim Bradner also contributed to this report.

05/28/2013 - 1:56pm