SEATTLE -- An Arctic drilling rig beached for several days on a remote, rocky shore in southern Alaska was refloated early Monday and towed toward safe harbor in a sheltered bay on Kodiak Island.
The Kulluk, which ran aground New Year’s Eve after it broke free of its tow lines during severe weather, was hooked up to new lines and hoisted off the rocks toward safety during a high tide.
Officials with the U.S. Coast Guard and Shell Alaska, which operated the rig during offshore oil operations this summer, were taking the vessel to a location in Kiliuda Bay, where it could be carefully inspected for damage.
Towing operations began at about 1:45 a.m., and the vessel by late morning had nearly arrived at the bay, located about 50 miles away from where the Kulluk was grounded, officials said Monday morning.
“Once they get there, they’re going to do some more assessments. It will be in an area where they will have options, either to get divers down or use some kind of remotely operated vehicle — they’ll do a full assessment,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Matt Schofield told the Los Angeles Times.
A decision will be made at that time whether to try to continue to tow the rig, as originally planned, to Seattle for maintenance and repairs.
Emergency response officials said the refloating overnight was accomplished by applying increasing tension on a tow line as the rising tide allowed the rig to rise from the rocks.
"I think everybody was yelling and screaming and very, very happy.... When I got the email last night and was half asleep, I did the same thing," Steven Russell of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said in a briefing Monday.
"I won't say anyone was high-fiving. I would say there was ... a sense of relief. But recognizing that we have a lot more work ahead," said Capt. Paul Mehler III of the Coast Guard.