By Chris Klint
Channel 2 News
11:18 AM AKST, February 21, 2013
The U.S. Coast Guard lifted an order restricting the movements of the Shell drilling rig Kulluk Thursday, clearing the way for its tow to Asia for repairs in the wake of its New Year’s Eve grounding near Kodiak.
The Captain of the Port order was lifted by Capt. Paul Mehler III, the commander of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage and a member of the Unified Command formed to oversee responses to the incident. The command stood down last week, announcing plans (PDF) for the Kulluk to be towed to Dutch Harbor and placed in a special dock for “dry-tow” transit to Asia.
Mehler, who also holds the title of Captain of the Port for Western Alaska, issued the Jan. 7 order requiring the Kulluk to remain at anchor in Kiliuda Bay off Kodiak Island, where it had been towed about a week after it ran aground on Sitkalidak Island. The grounding and refloating had caused officials to decide that the conical drilling unit presented a possible threat to personnel and the environment.
“I reviewed all of the relevant and available information and determined that Shell has met the requirements of the Captain of the Port Order,” Mehler said in a Thursday statement. “We will monitor the movement of the Kulluk to Dutch Harbor and will engage if needed.”
The Coast Guard says several steps were involved in the decision.
“In preparation for lifting the Captain of the Port order, written notification was provided from the vessel’s Flag State and/or Class Society that the Kulluk was safe to proceed to its port of destination, and Coast Guard personnel were provided an opportunity to review the final written tow plan for Kulluk's departure from Kiliuda Bay,” officials wrote.
The Coast Guard statement directed questions on the Kulluk’s tow plan to Shell. According to Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith, the lifting of the order confirms that officials have examined the company’s plans for the estimated 10-day tow of the Kulluk to Dutch Harbor.
“Just that they have officially looked at the tow plan instead of having it in hand,” Smith said.
Smith says dates for the Kulluk’s move primarily depend on weather conditions, with no changes planned after two of the three tugs expected to tow it collided Friday in Kiliuda Bay. One of the vessels, the Ocean Wave, sustained minor damage in the collision, with no injuries reported.
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