Latest Update (Jan. 2): Overflight Video, Environmental Groups Respond as Damage Assessment Begins on the Stranded Kulluk

Waves crash over the conical drilling unit Kulluk where it sits aground on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island, Alaska, Jan. 1, 2013. A Unified Command, consisting of the Coast Guard, federal, state and local partners and industry representatives was established in response to the grounding. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

Waves crash over the conical drilling unit Kulluk where it sits aground on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island, Alaska, Jan. 1, 2013. The crew of the tug Alert was ordered to separate from the Kulluk at approximately 8:15 p.m., Dec. 31st to maintain the safety of the nine crewmembers aboard the vessel.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A large drill ship belonging to oil major Shell ran aground off Alaska on Monday night after drifting in stormy weather, company and government officials said.

The ship, the Kulluk, broke away from one of its tow lines on Monday afternoon and was driven, within hours, to rocks just off Kodiak Island, where it grounded at about 9 p.m. Alaska time, officials said.

The 18-member crew had been evacuated by the Coast Guard late Saturday because of risks from the ongoing storm.

gCaptain’s Earlier Coverage: Kulluk Incident

With winds reported at up to 60 miles an hour and Gulf of Alaska seas of up to 35 feet, responders were unable to keep the ship from grounding, said Coast Guard Commander Shane Montoya, the leader of the incident command team.

“We are now entering into the salvage and possible spill-response phase of this event,” Montoya told a news conference late on Monday night in Anchorage.

There is no known spill and no reports of damage yet, but the Kulluk has about 155,000 gallons of fuel on board, Montoya said.

The grounding of the Kulluk, a conical, Arctic-class drill ship weighing nearly 28,000 gross tons, is a blow to Shell’s $4.5 billion offshore programme in Alaska.

Shell’s plan to convert the area in to a major new oil frontier has alarmed environmentalists and manyAlaska Natives but excited industry supporters.

Environmentalists and Native opponents say the drilling program threatens a fragile region that is already being battered by rapid climate change.

“Shell and its contractors are no match for Alaska’s weather and sea conditions either during drilling operations or during transit,” Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society, said in an email.

“Shell’s costly drilling experiment in the Arctic Ocean needs to be stopped by the federal government or by Shell itself given the unacceptably high risks it poses to both humans and the environment.”


The Kulluk’s woes began on Friday, when the Shell ship towing it south experienced a mechanical failure and lost its connection to the drill vessel.

That ship, the Aivik, was reattached to the Kulluk early on Monday morning, as was a tug sent to the scene by the operator of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System. But the Aivik lost its link Monday afternoon, and the tug’s crew could only try to guide the drill ship to a position where, if it grounded, “it would have the least amount of impact to the environment,” Montoya said.

The Kulluk was used by Shell in September and October to drill a prospect in the Beaufort Sea. It was being taken to Seattle for the off-season when the problems began on Friday.

Susan Childs, emergency incident commander for Shell, held out hope that a significant spill from the drill ship was unlikely.

“The unique design of the Kulluk means the diesel fuel tanks are isolated in the center in the vessel and encased in very heavy steel,” she told the news conference.

Shell is waiting for weather to moderate “to begin a complete assessment of the Kulluk,” she said. “We hope to ultimately recover the Kulluk with minimal or no damage to the environment.”

The Kulluk was built in 1983 and had been slated to be scrapped before Shell bought it in 2005. The company has spent $292 million since then to upgrade the vessel.

Shell’s Arctic campaign has been bedevilled by problems. A second drill ship, the Discoverer, was briefly detained in December by the Coast Guard in Seward, Alaska, because of safety concerns. A mandatory oil-containment barge, the Arctic Challenger, failed for months to meet Coast Guard requirements for seaworthiness and a ship mishap resulted in damage to a critical piece of equipment intended to cap a blown well.

(c) 2012 Reuters

The following are images showing the location of the grounded Kulluk.

Screen shot 2013-01-02 at 9.26.10 AM

This map shows the 12/31/12 trajectory of the Kulluk along with time stamps.

This map shows the 12/31/12 trajectory of the Kulluk along with time stamps.

kulluk grounding position

This map shows the 12/31/12 trajectory of the Kulluk along with time stamps and a larger view of the shore line.

The following video was shot on scene Monday, Oct. 31 aboard the Coast Guard Cutter SPAR, a 225-foot buoy tender homeported in Kodiak, while underway in the vicinity of the mobile drilling unit Kulluk in 23 mph winds and 4-foot seas more than 40 miles south of Kodiak City, Alaska.

Unified Command Update #15:  

A U.S. Coast Guard flyover of the Conical Drill Unit (CDU) Kulluk indicated the vessel remains grounded but stable near Sitkalidak Island (north edge of Ocean Bay). The flight crew’s aerial inspection found no signs of a fuel spill from the vessel.

Two flyovers were conducted this morning using a Kodiak-based Coast Guard C-130 and a Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter, also based in Kodiak. The second flight via the Jayhawk helicopter included a salvage team to further assess the situation from the air. Unified Command will continue to respond to the incident with the Kulluk south of Kodiak, Alaska.

The Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley and an additional support vessel are standing by to assist as needed. Unified Command continues to implement contingency plans, including staging spill response equipment to the area.

The priorities for Unified Command continue to be the safety of personnel and the protection of the environment. Nearly 600 people are involved in the response.

Media inquiries should be directed to the Joint Information Center at 907-433-3417. for more information


Latest Weather at Kodiak Station, Alaska

  • Tuesday: Rain and snow. No snow accumulation. Highs in the lower 40s. Southeast wind 30 to 45 mph becoming south 15 to 30 mph in the afternoon.
  • Tuesday Night: Snow and rain likely in the evening…then scattered snow showers after midnight. No snow accumulation. Lows in the mid 30s. South wind 15 to 25 mph.
  • Wednesday: Scattered snow showers in the morning…then rain in the afternoon. Highs in the upper 30s. Southeast wind 15 to 25 mph increasing to 25 to 40 mph in the afternoon.
  • Wednesday Night: Snow and rain in the evening…then snow likely after midnight. Lows in the lower to mid 30s. Southeast wind 25 to 40 mph.
  • Thursday: Mostly cloudy with scattered snow showers. Highs in the upper 30s. South wind 15 to 30 mph.
  • Thursday Night: Mostly cloudy with scattered snow showers. Lows 30 to 35.
  • Friday Through Saturday: Rain and snow likely. Highs 35 to 40. Lows 30 to 35.
  • Saturday Night And Sunday: Mostly cloudy with a chance of rain and snow. Lows around 30. Highs in the mid 30s.
  • Sunday Night: Rain likely. Lows 30 to 35.
  • Monday: Mostly cloudy with a chance of snow and rain. Highs in the mid 30s.
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  • Hauk

    Gross ton is not a measurement of weight >_<

  • Steven Bain

    Brings back memories of the rescue we did when I was a young Deck Officer aboard USCGC BOUTWELL in October 1980. Just south of the Alutians an oil rig, the Dan Prince broke free from it’s tug in fifty foot seas and began to founder. Our MSB brought the 18 crew (yes the Same number!) from the rig before it capsized and sank.

  • Skippertom

    This had “fiasco” written all over it from the get. Now the taxpayer gets to foot the bill – the U.S. Taxpayer (me), the Alaskan taxpayer and all the various first nations corporations as well. I hope that the Shell Oil Company has deep pockets! I’d certainly like to know the name of the executive or the board members at Shell that said “Let’s pull the trigger on this – let’s tow out the biggest oil drilling platform in the dead of winter in the worst location on the planet with the worst weather and plant it.” Can you say “stupidity”?

    • Krafty

      Skipperton, you obviously have never been south of the horn. Remember, this is a sailor’s sight, and the water is wide. Too big a boat for the towing bridle was the problem, compounded by bad fuel, but coming form Antarctica, 35 footers isn’t that bad.

    • Grant

      Alaskans pay neither income nor sales taxes, in fact they get an annual cheque as a share of oil production.

      Senior executives and board members do not make day to day operations decisions. The tug captain can always say no.

      Worst weather on the planet?? Not even close. Try Winter North Atlantic or as Krafty says Cape Horn and the roaring 40’s Southern Ocean.

      • Ron Palmer

        Could not agree more about the worst weather – Yes try the Southern Ocean south of New Zealand.

  • A MAriner

    1. The only reason why the Plimsoll has a Winter North Atlantic (WNA) mark, is that the Winter Bering Sea was not regularly sailed on at that time. Perhaps it is time to make an addition.

    2. Who underwrote this operation?

    3. Why would the US allow the Monrovian flag Dan Prince is US waters instead of a US Flag oil rig?

  • Doug Bostrom

    Video: “23 mph winds and 4-foot seas”

    My eyes are lying to me again, apparently. Or the tender is actually 22.5 feet long? :-)

    • Drew Clark

      Was thinking those seas in video looked a bit taller than 4 feet….

  • Mike

    Need the M/V Forte out there, we can do it!

  • Ross

    For me the interesting aspect of this incident is the degree that everybody in the forums watching the AIS data could accurately speculate as to what was happening.

  • Fred

    So, being a sailor, I can assure you they are not 4 ‘foot’ seas and 23 mph wind but significantly higher. Those conditions would indicate a wonderful day to be out sailing not what this video is showing.

    Better question is what are they doing out in those conditions? Doesn’t anyone else do a thorough weather check before heading out?

  • test

    Hi, i think that i saw you visited my blog so i came to “return the favor”.I am attempting to find things to improve my website!I suppose its ok to use a few of your ideas!!

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