Drill ship, crew remain stalled on Gulf of Alaska

Shell drill ship, crew remain stalled on Gulf of Alaska, drifting toward Trinity Islands

Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- High winds and waves prevented the Coast Guard from evacuating an 18-member crew of a stalled Shell drill ship in the Gulf of Alaska and another vessel was on the way Saturday to prevent the ship from drifting into the Trinity Islands, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

Helicopter crews tried unsuccessfully Friday night and early Saturday morning to evacuate the crew of the Kulluk, which has no propulsion system and is dependent on other vessels to move it around, Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class David Mosley said.

Winds of over 60 mph and waves of 20 to 25 feet were too much for an evacuation, Mosley said. "It's a very dynamic situation," he said.

The Royal Dutch Shell PLC drill ship stalled after the engines of its tow vessel Aiviq failed on Thursday while on the way from the Aleutian Islands to Seattle for winter maintenance work. Since then, the ship has drifted west from Kodiak, and was about 27 miles from the Trinity Islands early Saturday morning, Mosley said.

"We don't want it to go aground," he said. "When a vessel goes aground, it's directly played upon by the waves hitting it and having it hit something solid."

At the rate it is drifting, the Kulluk could hit the islands in 12-13 hours, he said.

The Nanuq, Shell's principal oil spill response vessel, was expected to reach the drill ship within hours. The plan was for Nanuq crews to attach a tow line to the Kulluk and take control as the 360-foot Aiviq continues its repairs.

A relief tug under contract with Shell, The Guardsman, left Seward and arrived Friday to try to provide more propulsion, while the Coast Guard delivered repair parts by air to the Aivik. The Aiviq crew was able to restart one engine, and with generators had enough power to maintain its position.

The Kulluk is one of two drill ships Shell operated this year in the short Arctic Ocean open water season. A round ship with a 160-foot derrick, it resembles a bowling pin in a bowl. It was designed for extended drilling in Arctic waters, and has an ice-reinforced, funnel-shape hull 266 feet in diameter. The conical shape is designed to deflect moving ice downward and break it into small pieces.

The Aiviq is owned and operated by Edison Chouest Offshore of Galliano, La.

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