One of two icebreakers that will support Shell’s arctic drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer is now stuck in Dutch Harbor after an underwater gash was discovered in its hull.
The website Fuel Fix reports that the Finnish multipurpose icebreaker MSV Fennica was departing from Dutch Harbor, AK to the Chukchi Sea last Friday when crew members and a harbor pilot discovered a leak in the Fennica’s ballast tank, forcing the vessel back to Dutch.
The report said that the gash measured approximately 39 inches long by less than a half an inch wide, and that it is unclear exactly what caused it. Experts are now examining the damage in Dutch Harbor and trying to determine whether the breach can be repaired on site or if the vessel will need more significant repairs, the report said.
A Shell spokesman said that the company does not believe the Fennica damage will delay the company’s planned Chukchi Sea drilling operations, although “any impact to our season will ultimately depend on the extent of the damage,” according to a statement obtained by Fuel Fix.
A statement Tuesday from the Fennica’s owner and operator, Finland’s Arctia Shipping, confirmed the “underwater hull damage” and said the vessel has returned to Dutch Harbor maintenance work.
“Divers checked her hull and a maintenance plan was drawn upon their evaluation. When the maintenance works are completed, MSV Fennica will head to her operational duties off the coast of Alaska,” according to the Arctia Shipping statement. The incident did not cause any harm to the environment, the owner said.
The MSV Fennica is one of 29 vessels – and two icebreakers – that will head to the Chukchi Sea this summer in support of Shell’s planned arctic drilling operations. The vessel will be used primarily for ice reconnaissance and management, but also carries the well capping stack, a key piece of containment equipment that is considered the last line of defense in the case of a major blowout while drilling.
The incident is just the latest setback for the oil major’s estimated $7 billion plans to drill in the Alaskan Arctic. Most recently, the U.S. barred Shell from actively drilling more than one well at a time because of the requirement for a 15-mile buffer zone between active rigs.
Shell won approval for this summer’s Arctic plans from the U.S. Interior Department in May and the company is still awaiting one final permit before it is allowed to commence drilling operations.
Update (July 11): AIS data as of Saturday showed the vessel still in Dutch Harbor.
The U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday that surveyors discovered a previously uncharted shoal in the area, although it is unclear if contact with the shoal is what caused the grounding, Alaska Dispatch News reported.