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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.
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. Visitwww.KullukResponse.com for more information
Latest Weather at Kodiak Station, Alaska
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