Shell drill ship still floats off Alaskan coast

  • About
  • Export
  • Add to
The U.S. Coast Guard delivered an emergency towing system via helicopter to the salvage team on the deck of the Kulluk drilling ship on Wednesday (January 2).

The runaway oil rig ran aground in Alaska on New Year's Eve dragging two vessels trying to control it more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) toward shore in just over an hour before the crews cut it loose to save themselves in "near hurricane" conditions.

The unified command said the Kulluk is now "upright and stable" on Sitkalidak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. Six salvage experts spent three hours aboard it Wednesday for a structural assessment to be used by Netherlands-based Smit Salvage.

Details were still emerging on Wednesday (January 2) from the U.S. Coast Guard and Royal Dutch/Shell, the company at the center of a controversial and accident-prone Arctic oil drilling program of which the Kulluk drillship is a vital part.

They paint a frightening picture of the 28,000-tonne, saucer-shaped rig being thrust toward the shore on waves up to 35 feet (11 meters) high driven by winds up to 62 mph (100 kph), pulling its main towing vessel, the Aiviq, and a tug, the Alert, behind it.

More than 600 people were involved in the Kulluk response effort.

The 30-year-old Kulluk is operated by Noble Corp and was refitted by Shell for its summer 2012 drilling expedition in the Beaufort Sea off northern Alaska.

The Kulluk was on its way south for the winter. It had been towed east from Beaufort, and then south through the Bering Strait that separates the northernmost U.S. state from Siberia.