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Shell drilling rig refloated and towed to sheltered anchorage

08 January 2013

The US Coast Guard (USCG) said on January 7 that Royal Dutch Shell's Kulluk rig, which went aground off a remote Alaskan island on New Year’s Eve, has been refloated and towed 30 miles to shelter at Kiliuda Bay on Kodiak Island.

The Kulluk rig and its towing vessel in December 2012
The Kulluk rig and its towing vessel in December 2012

The oil drilling vessel, which has no engines of its own, was being towed for maintenance when it ran aground during a fierce storm on December 31 after being cut adrift from the towing vessel Aiviq, which had developed engine problems, and a tug.

Officials said that so far there is no sign the hull of the Kulluk has been breached or that oil has spilled from the vessel. It is carrying more than 140,000 gallons of diesel and about 12,000 gallons of lube oil and hydraulic fluid.

The main tow line was attached from a towing vessel earlier in the day in preparation for the refloating when ocean conditions were favourable.

The Unified Command overseeing recovery of the vessel said three additional tugs are on standby along with a Coast Guard cutter and two oil spill response vessels.

More than 730 people are involved in the response and recovery operation.

The Kulluk has a reinforced steel hull that allows it to operate in ice and is one of two Shell ships that drilled last year in the Arctic Ocean.

The 10-member salvage crew and one Shell representative remained on board the Kulluk throughout the tow and are assessing damage. Initial indications are that seawater ingress has been through damaged hatches rather than any holes in the hull.

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