SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Arctic-class drillship grounded; Tow line attached Wednesday


January 02, 2013
Wednesday PM

(SitNews) - Shell’s Arctic-class drillship, the Kulluk, grounded on the southeast shoreline of Sitkalidak Island, Alaska, at approximately 9 p.m. local time on December 31st, while under tow in heavy seas from Alaska to the U.S. port of Seattle. There has been no reported loss of life and no significant injuries as a result of this maritime transit incident.

According to Capt. Paul Mehler III, Federal On-Scene Commander, U.S. Coast Guard, a safety tow system was safely put on the Kulluk Wednesday evening.

jpg Arctic-class drillship grounded; Tow line attached Wednesday

Waves crash over the conical drilling unit Kulluk where it sits aground on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island, Alaska, Jan. 1, 2013. A Unified Command, consisting of the Coast Guard, federal, state and local partners and industry representatives was established in response to the grounding.
Photo courtesy Unified Command

Friday, the tugboat Aiviq experienced multiple engine failures while towing the mobile drilling unit Kulluk. By Saturday the Kulluk under tow by the Aiviq and the Nanuq. However, according to Shell, the tow lines connecting the Aiviq and the response vessel Nanuq to the Kulluk separated Sunday during difficult weather conditions,

At approximately 12:45 a.m., Monday, Dec. 31, the Alert was able to secure the 400-foot line that was previously the tow line used by the Aiviq. The Alert successfully added tension to the line to test its ability to hold. Later in Monday morning, the Aiviq also restored its connection to the Kulluk.

The crew of the tug Alert was ordered to separate from the Kulluk at 8:15 pm Monday to maintain the safety of the nine crewmembers aboard the vessel. Later Monday it was reported the Kulluk was adrift four miles from the nearest point of land. The Unified Command reported that Kulluk grounded at approximately 9:00 p.m. Alaska time on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island.

Tuesday, a team of five salvage experts boarded the grounded drilling unit Kulluk to conduct a structural assessment to be used to finalize salvage plans, currently being developed by the Kulluk Tow Incident Unified Command.

The five-member team was lowered to the Kulluk by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter at about 10:30 Tuesday morning. The assessment lasted about three hours. A helicopter safely hoisted the team from the drilling unit at about 1:30 p.m. The Coast Guard helicopter and crew also delivered a state-owned emergency towing system to the Kulluk, which will be used during salvage operations.

Efforts to place a team on-board the rig to conduct the assessment were put on hold due to severe weather conditions over the past several days. Calmer conditions Tuesday morning created a window that enabled the assessment to take place.

Smit Salvage is heading up salvage operations. Smit is a highly experienced salvage company that has assisted in hundreds of operations worldwide, including the Selendang Ayu salvage that took place off the coast of Western Unalaska in 2004. It also assisted in the Costa Concordia salvage off the coast of Italy in 2012.

The information gained from the on-site assessment will be invaluable in helping to evaluate the available options for freeing the rig from its grounded position. Following the completion of their mission, the assessment team was returned to Coast Guard Air Station/Kodiak.

The Unified Command met with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Tuesday, to discuss the priorities and challenges associated with the Kulluk Tow Incident response.

The Unified Command stressed to Sen. Murkowski on New Year's day that all were aligned on objectives with safety of its personnel and protecting the environment being the top priority. The senator was briefed on the full-response effort including the challenges endured by responders to stabilize the Kulluk in extreme weather conditions.

"Senator Murkowski shares the Coast Guard's desire to protect the pristine Alaska environment and response personnel," said Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo. "Everyone involved in the response effort has the same objective: to safely recover the Kulluk without injuries or impact to the environment. So far, response personnel have demonstrated great resourcefulness and adaptability to the weather and other challenges in a very difficult operation."

“The senator’s visit to the command post is encouraging to response personnel and our efforts to resolve this incident,” said Steve Russell, state on-scene coordinator. “With the Kulluk grounding within state waters, we will closely monitor the recovery of the rig with the goal of little to no environmental impact.”

Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander, Coast Guard 17th District and commander of Coast Guard forces in Alaska, is actively assisting and supporting Capt. Paul Mehler III, commander, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage and Federal On-Scene Coordinator for the Kulluk Tow Incident.

"My primary concern is ensuring the unified command has the personnel, assets and equipment they need to safely salvage the Kulluk," said Ostebo on Wednesday. "I have over flown the Kulluk twice and am fully aware of the remote location, weather challenges and the extensive plans that will have to be developed to ensure this incident is managed in safe and effective manner."

Ostebo is also working with the unified command to ensure that the public, stakeholders and elected officials are kept up to date on the response and its objectives.

"This is a very large and complex response and it is important that the American public and our elected officials understand the dangerous and difficult challenges being faced by the response crews," said Ostebo. "We are continuing our collaborated response with other shareholders in the unified command until the grounded Kulluk no longer poses a threat to the pristine Alaska maritime environment. Throughout the response, our number one priority has been and will continue to be ensuring the safety of the crews involved in response operations."

A Unified Command consisting of the Coast Guard, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and other federal, state, local and tribal partners was established last Friday and is working with Royal Dutch Shell and Edison Chouest Offshore to respond to this incident.

“The communication between the different stakeholders involved in this response has been exceptional,” said Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander, Coast Guard 17th District. “The ability to quickly adapt and safely coordinate efforts to maintain control of the Kulluk despite the harsh weather remain the key factors in a successful outcome.”

The Kulluk is upright and stable, and the Coast Guard flight crew’s aerial assessment Jan. 1, 2013 found no signs of environmental impact.

More than 600 people are supporting this response. Unified Command remains focused on ensuring the safety of responders and protecting the environment.

Unified Command is working with Old Harbor Native Corporation to stage spill response equipment should it be needed.


Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


Source of News: 

Unified Command


United States Coast Guard


E-mail your news & photos to

Publish A Letter in SitNews

Contact the Editor

SitNews ©2013
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

 Articles & photographs that appear in SitNews may be protected by copyright and may not be reprinted without written permission from and payment of any required fees to the proper sources.