The drilling rig Kulluk reached an anchorage off Kodiak Island Monday morning, nearly a week after it ran aground 30 miles away during a winter storm and was taken under tow Sunday, as Shell Oil President Marvin Odum apologized for the incident.
In a statement released Monday afternoon confirming the Kulluk’s arrival at Kiliuda Bay, Odum expressed both regret for the Shell-contracted conical drilling unit’s grounding and relief at the outcome of a towing operation which began late Sunday.
“We undertake significant planning and preparation in an effort to ensure these types of incidents do not occur. We’re very sorry it did,” Odum said. “Since the grounding, Shell has worked with all parties in the Unified Command structure to ensure a safe outcome and to protect the maritime environment in the vicinity of the grounded vessel. Thanks to the professionalism, dedication, and skill of all those involved in the recovery effort, I’m pleased to say those objectives have been met with no significant injuries and no environmental impact.”
At a Monday press conference the Unified Command, which has been overseeing the response to the grounding, had said that as of 10 a.m. Monday it was in tow at speeds of roughly 2 to 4 knots, about 1.5 miles from its planned anchorage in Kiliuda Bay.
Shell Alaska operations manager Sean Churchfield says the refloating of the Kulluk off Sitkalidak Island occurred at about 4 p.m. Sunday, with provisions and a generator delivered to its crew. The vessels Aiviq and Alert were towing the Kulluk, accompanied by what Churchfield described as “a small fleet” of response vessels, including four other tugs.
Monday’s developments were the latest in a story that began Dec. 28, when the Kulluk -- one of the rigs used by Shell during last year's exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea -- was being towed to Seattle and the vessel Aiviq lost its towlone suffered several engine failures. The Kulluk’s crew was evacuated and towlines were intermittently re-established over the next two days, but the rig ultimately ran aground at about 9:30 p.m. New Year’s Eve.
Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler III, the Unified Command’s federal on-scene coordinator, was guardedly optimistic in his assessment of the tow, saying that while no high-fiving occurred when the Kulluk was refloated, there was “certainly a sense of relief.” He says safety remains the highest priority in moving the rig, with crews working to “do it right, do it smart, do it safe.”
According to the state’s on-scene coordinator, Steven Russel with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Kulluk’s crew didn’t detect any signs of pollution during the refloating operation. The response vessel Nanuq conducted infrared surveys at the site of the grounding as well as during the tow, but hasn’t found any pollution from the rig.
Russel says the grounding and tow operation aren’t expected to have any impact on cod, sport or commercial fisheries in the area. An effort to assess the scene of the grounding is already under way, and a shoreline assessment of any lifeboats or debris washed ashore from the Kulluk in Ocean Bay was scheduled to begin Monday.
The Kulluk will be assessed for damage in Kiliuda Bay, with Churchfield telling reporters the duration of its stay there will be “extremely dependent on the outcome of the assessment.” Shell plans to use divers, remotely operated vehicles or both to conduct an inspection of the rig’s hull.
According to Russel, the state will require Shell to “maintain an adequate level of response capability” to prevent any pollution from occurring during the Kulluk’s stay in Kiliuda Bay.
Odum refused to speculate on the impact of the grounding Monday, echoing previous statements from the Unified Command.
“At this stage, it’s too early to gauge any impact on our ongoing exploration plans, but with the Kulluk now safely recovered, we’ll carry out a detailed assessment of the vessel to understand what those impacts might be,” Odum said. “In the meantime, we will participate in the (U.S.) Coast Guard’s investigation into the causes of this incident and will implement lessons learned.”
Contact Chris Klint