Workers prepare equipment and supplies on the airport tarmac in Kodiak Thursday, Jan. 4 to be used in the ongoing Kulluk response and recovery effort. Photo by Greg Martin via KullukResponse.com

Workers prepare equipment and supplies on the airport tarmac in Kodiak Thursday, Jan. 4 to be used in the ongoing Kulluk response and recovery effort. Photo by Greg Martin via KullukResponse.com

The Kulluk incident’s Unified Command on Saturday gave the go-ahead to Shell to remove the grounded drilling rig near Sitkalidak Island in Alaska.

In a statement, the Unified Command said it planned to hook a main tow line to the Kulluk, depending on local weather and tidal conditions, in preparation for its recovery. As we saw yesterday, a number of assets – including vessels, personnel, and equipment – have been moved to the area in preparation for the salvage. The Unified Command says that as a precaution, booms will be deployed around Kodiak Island, in particular to help protect salmon streams connected to Ocean Bay.

Unified Command has developed and approved a recovery plan after a series of inspections aboard the Kulluk.

The drilling rig continues to remain upright, fuel tanks appear to be intact, and there is no threat to the stability of the vessel. Also, naval architects have confirmed the structural strength of the vessel is sound and fit to tow.

Salvage teams are currently aboard the vessel and preparing for the recovery operations.

The current plan calls for the Kulluk to be towed to Kiliuda Bay for safe harbor – a tow of approximately 30 miles. When the Kulluk arrives in Kiliuda Bay, a more detailed assessment will take place.

In a update to the media, the Unified Command gave few details about the tow but said it will be carried out using the Aiviq and that the rig will not be lightened, including no removal of fuel. As much as 143,000 gallons of diesel and about 12,000 gallons of other refined oil products are currently stored on board the Kulluk.

TOWING PLAN ANIMATION

Officials did not give a timeline for the tow but did say that they were still awaiting a piece of towing equipment and any operations to remove the rig would be weather permitting. All things considered, the tow could happen soon, or will have to be postponed as a developing storm low over the central North Pacific will move northeastward towards Kodiak Alaska during the next 24-36 hours, according to forecasts by the Oceanweatherservices.com blog.

The officials added that a team of salvors from Smit and Shell representatives will be on board the Kulluk during the tow.

ASSETS IN THE AREA

Via KullukResponse.com. Click for large

Via KullukResponse.com. Click for large

The Kulluk continues to remain upright and stable with no reports of sheen in the vicinity. Salvage teams conducted an additional survey confirming all fuel tanks remain intact and can handle the operation.

A helicopter lands on the deck of the Kulluk  on Thursday, Jan. 4. Photo by Judy Patrick

For the first time since grounded, a helicopter lands on the deck of the Kulluk on Thursday, Jan. 4. Photo by Judy Patrick

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  • Doug Davies, Chief Engineer

    As a professional mariner who has spent time, in all seasons in these waters, I cannot imagine a reason compelling enough to justify a tow like this in the winter.

    Hopefully all agencies involved will conduct a very thorough investigation. This is a good example of corporate arrogance and the reason why strict oversight is necessary.

    • Bill

      I find it comical that you as a chief engineer are commenting on the matter. Had the engines not failed on the towing unit we would not be having this conversation. I wonder whose responsibility it was for the engine failure? Maybe some strict oversight of the chief engineer on the towing vessel would be in order? What do you think?

      • Doug Davies, Chief Engineer

        I think that you work for Shell or are very inexperienced.

        There is no definate cause published for the engine failure. “Bad fuel” is suspected. Is there a fuel oil purifier on-board? Was it working? It should have been. Was the fuel sampled when they bunkered and then tested? It should have been. All of these items are under the Chief’s supervision. If they weren’t done, then he/she shares responsibility.

        However, the decision to make a tow such as this, in waters that rival the North Sea, in winter, was a poor decision.

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