The M/V Aiviq daparting Vigor Shipyard with Kolluk rig in tow. Photo via gCaptain Forum

Two oil rigs and a flotilla of support vessels slated to commence exploratory drilling off Alaska’s North Slope have departed on their trip up north from Seattle shipyards.

AIS data from MarineTraffic.com indicates that the Kolluk drilling rig left Vigor Shipyards in Seattle, WA along with Shell’s massive new AHTS, M/V Aiviq and followed by a number of tugs and Coast Guard vessels, for Dutch Harbor, AK.   Meanwhile, a Shell spokesperson has indicated that both the Kolluk rig and the Noble Discoverer drillship, along with a small army of support vessels, have departed for Dutch Harbor where they will await making the final transit the Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea to drill five exploratory wells.

The oil industry blog, Fuel Fix, indicates that Shell’s Arctic-bound flotilla includes roughly two dozen vessels including a number of tugs and barges, supply vessels, AHTS’ and oil recovery vessels. As mentioned, the flotilla includes the M/V Aiviq, a 360-foot ice class anchor handler built by Edison Chouest for a reported $200 million.  The Aiviq, along with a similar vessel in the fleet named Nanuq, are heavily equipped for spill response and recovery.

Not in sight is Greenpeace’s Esperanza, ice-class protest ship that gCaptain reported previously arrived in Seattle to “observe” Shell’s operation.

In related news, the BSEE on Tuesday oversaw and passed a comprehensive testing of Shell’s Arctic-ready capping stack system in Puget Sound.  During the tests, the icebreaker Fennica successfully deployed the capping stack, a key piece of safety equipment in the case of a blowout, in 200 feet of water, deeper than the proposed wells in the Arctic, and conducted a number of pressure tests.

Still, Shell needs to meet a number of additional technical requirements, including a test of their containment system under BSEE supervision, prior to a final decision being made on their drilling permits.  With the successful completion of yesterday’s tests, however all indications are pointing that Shell will be drilling in the Arctic this summer.

Providing proper approval, Shell operations are scheduled to begin in mid-July.

A screen capture from MarineTraffic.com shows the M/V Aiviq making its way up Puget Sound just north of Seattle with the Kolluk rig (purple) in tow.

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