Shell Alaska drilling unit grounds after tow is lost

JANUARY 2, 2013 — The Shell mobile conical drilling unit Kulluk is stable after running aground New Year's Eve near Kodiak, Alaska, following failed attempts to tow the vessel in a fierce storm.

"Following the U.S. Coast Guard reconnaissance flight earlier today, the Kulluk is upright and rocking with a slow, but stable motion," Shell Alaska Operations Manager Sean Churchfield told a press conference in Anchorage today.

The grounding happened at about 9.00 p.m. Monday on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island in Ocean Bay in conditions that included 70 knot winds and 50 ft seas.

The Unified Command said Monday that it ordered the tug Alert to separate from the unmanned Kulluk around 8:15 p.m. for the safety of the nine crew members on the Alert.

The priorities for Unified Command continue to be the safety of personnel and the protection of the environment. Nearly 600 people are involved in the response.

The Unified Command was set up December 28, 2012, by the U.S. Coast Guard, Shell and Edison Chouest Offshore after Chouest's MV Aiviq experienced a loss of power to its main propulsion engines as it was towing the Kulluk. The use of power generators allowed the Aiviq to avoid significant drift with the Kulluk in tow.

However weather and sea conditions continued to deteriorate and the Aiviq subsequently lost its tow line.

The drill unit has about 150,000 gallons of ultra-low sulfur diesel on board and roughly 12,000 gallons of combined lube oil and hydraulic fluid.

"The unique design of the Kulluk means the diesel fuel tanks are isolated in the center of the vessel and encased in heavy steel," according to Shell.

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