Shell Drill Ship Grounded In Alaska Set For First Tow Attempt

Naval architects have given the go-ahead for Royal Dutch Shell PLC to attempt to move its grounded drill ship, depending on weather, tides, and readiness.

Shell incident commander Sean Churchfield made the announcement at a press conference on Saturday, saying that the architects pronounced the Kulluk fit to be towed.

ABC News reports that Churchfield stated of the attempt:

“I can’t offer you firm times. Right now, the preparation for the tow depends on the weather and operational constraints. We will be looking to move the vessel as soon as we are ready and able.”

If the crew is successful in pulling the drill ship from the rocks off Sitkalidak Island, it will be towed 30 miles to Kodiak Island’s Kiliuda Bay, which is about 43 miles southeast of Kodiak, Alaska.

The Kulluk was lost on December 27 when a line between it an the 260-foot anchor boat, the Aiviq, broke. Four re-attached lines between the Aiviq and other vessels also broke during stormy weather. The 266-foot drilling boat is a circular barged with a funnel-shaped steel hull, which allows it to operate in ice.

The Aiviq will attempt to tow the vessel again. The grounded vessel’s fuel tanks have remained intact and there are no plans to remove the diesel stored in its tanks.

CBS News notes that no divers have been in the water where the shell drill ship is grounded, but soundings from Coast Guard boats and discussions with local fisherman have indicated that the Kulluk is resting on a rocky bottom.

More than 600 people are working to make sure the vessel is recovered safely, but the operation still had some critics, like Dan Magone, who has worked on several groundings in Alaska. He stated, “I’d really be shocked if this thing is so lightly aground and so lightly damaged that they can just go pull this thing off right away.”

Magone is not working on the Kulluk salvage, but he has helped to work on other groundings, like the Selendang Ayu, which was wrecked on Unalaska Island in December 2004.

There is no word on what the salvage crew will do if the towing attempt on the shell drill ship is not successful.