Drilling Rig Carrying Fuel Is Aground off Alaska ; Vessel, Owned by Shell, Broke Free from Tow Ships in Heavy Seas

By Fountain, Henry | International Herald Tribune, January 2, 2013 | Go to article overview

Drilling Rig Carrying Fuel Is Aground off Alaska ; Vessel, Owned by Shell, Broke Free from Tow Ships in Heavy Seas


Fountain, Henry, International Herald Tribune


Local officials say the emphasis will be on salvaging the thousands of gallons of fuel that are on board the rig.

An enormous Shell Oil offshore drilling rig ran aground on an island in the Gulf of Alaska this week after it broke free from tow ships in rough seas, officials said.

The rig, the Kulluk, which was used for test drilling in the Arctic last summer, is carrying about 139,000 gallons, or 526,170 liters, of diesel fuel and 12,000 gallons of lubricating oil and hydraulic fluid, the officials said.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flew over the rig after the grounding at 8:48 p.m. on Monday and "detected no visible sheen," said Darci Sinclair, a spokeswoman for a unified command of officials from Shell, Alaskan state agencies and other groups that has been directing the response since the troubles with the rig began last Thursday.

Ms. Sinclair said that more overflights were planned after daybreak on Tuesday and that the unified command would be monitoring the fuel situation as it planned further actions. "The focus will be around salvage," she said.

The rig, whose diameter is 266 feet, or 81 meters, ran aground on the east coast of Sitkalidak Island, an uninhabited island that is separated by the Sitkalidak Strait from Kodiak Island to the west. The nearest town, Old Harbor, is across the strait on Kodiak Island; it has a population of about 200 people.

The coast where the Kulluk ran aground has a combination of rocky and sandy terrain, Ms. Sinclair said.

Earlier, a Shell spokesman said the rig had been brought under control after towlines were reconnected to two ships during a break in what had been several days of very rough seas and high winds.

But late Monday afternoon the line from one of the ships, the Aiviq, became separated. Then, several hours later, the other ship, the Alert, was ordered to disconnect its towline, out of concern for the safety of the ship's nine-person crew. At the time, Ms. Sinclair said, swells were as high as 35 feet and winds were gusting up to 65 miles, or 105 kilometers, an hour. …

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