The Kulluk, Shell’s floating drilling platform, aground on the shore of Sitkalidak Island to the southeast of Kodiak Island, appears to be intact and stable, the team responding to the grounding incident said during a press conference yesterday evening. Yesterday a five-member team of salvage experts succeeded in visiting the vessel for about three hours. And a helicopter overflight of the grounding site spotted three of the Kulluk’s lifeboats near the stricken vessel, but no signs of any debris.
The Kulluk ran aground on the evening of Dec. 31 after a nearly four-day drama in which Shell and the U.S. Coast Guard had battled severe storms following problems in a towing operation, attempting to move the Kulluk from Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands to the U.S. West Coast.
Shell has chartered Smit Salvage to head the salvage operation for the Kulluk. Shell presumably hopes to recover the vessel relatively intact, but at this stage the response team is unwilling to speculate on the means, timing and outcome of recovering the vessel.
However, an emergency towing system was placed on the Kulluk during the Jan. 2 inspection, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler, the federal on-scene coordinator for the Kulluk response, explained during yesterday evening’s press conference.
“The plans for the Kulluk, once we’ve recovered it, will depend very much on the state of the vessel,” said Sean Churchfield, Shell’s incident commander.
Steve Russell, the state on-scene coordinator, said that the Kulluk had run aground in water off a cobble beach with mixed sand and gravel. The beach is at the base of a 200-foot bluff.
Apparently the Kulluk was carrying 143,000 gallons of ultra-low sulfur diesel and roughly 12,000 gallons of other petroleum products, with much of the fuel acting as ballast, to stabilize the vessel in the sea. The fuel tanks are in the interior of the vessel, isolated from the vessel’s hull.
“I am encouraged by what we saw today and we are awaiting the salvage team’s assessment, to finalize plans to remove the potential for any (fuel) release,” Mehler said.
See story in Jan. 6 issue of Petroleum News, available online at 11 a.m., Friday Jan. 4, at www.PetroleumNews.com