U.S. Coast Guard investigators have sent for review their initial findings into what caused a 3-foot gash in the hull of Shell’s arctic icebreaker Fennica during its stay in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
The Finnish multipurpose icebreaker MSV Fennica was departing Dutch Harbor, AK for the Chukchi Sea on July 3rd when crew members and a licensed harbor pilot discovered a leak in the vessel’s ballast tank. An inspection revealed a 39-inch long by nearly 1-inch wide gash in Fennica’s hull below the waterline, forcing the ship back to the U.S. West Coast for repairs.
The Fennica is one of 29 vessels due in the Chukchi Sea this summer in support of Shell’s arctic drilling operations, but the vessel is considered critical because it carries the well capping stack, a key piece of containment equipment considered that last line of defense against a blowout and required to be on-hand before tapping into any oil reserves.
During the initial investigation, marine casualty investigators from Anchorage determined that navigational charts found on board the Fennica were all up to date and the Fennica’s draft at the time of the incident was 26.25. After the crack was discovered, the Coast Guard issued a broadcast notice to mariners after a NOAA hydrographic survey revealed a (22.5ft + 3ft tide) uncharted shoal along Fennica’s track east of Hog Island, the investigators added. Also the vessel’s Master, Mate, and Pilot onboard at the time were drug tested and all results were negative.
The findings will now be sent to the Coast Guard Investigations National Center of Expertise for analysis, and then onto Coast Guard Headquarters Investigation Division for review and eventually a final report. The Coast Guard says it could be several months for the final report to be completed.
Last week, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) approved permits for limited exploratory drilling activities in the Chukchi Sea offshore Alaska, which limited Shell to drilling only the top sections of wells and prohibiting the company from drilling into oil-bearing zones until the capping stack can be deployed within 24 hours.
The permits also said that Shell must maintain a minimum spacing of 15 miles between active drill rigs during exploration activities to avoid significant effects on walruses in the region, a problem for Shell because its two wells are located less than 15 miles apart. Simultaneous drilling is therefore not allowed.
The Fennica was due to depart Portland, Oregon back to Alaska on Wednesday after repairs were completed at the Vigor Industrial shipyard, but its departure was being met by heavy protesting.