All crew off Shell drill ship, moving in Gulf of Alaska

ANCHORAGE —All 18 crew members were safely evacuated Saturday from a Shell drill ship in the Gulf of Alaska and the company was towing the rig further from land in anticipation of another stormy night.


The drill ship, the Kulluk, which had been drifting toward Trinity Islands, was being moved toward safe harbor by two tow vessels, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said.

Repair crews have restarted all four engines on the Aiviq, one of the tow vessels, and a second tow line was stretched Saturday from the Nanuq to the Kulluk, Smith said. The drill ship has no propulsion system of its own.

The two tow lines have helped stabilize the drill ship, but the company and the U.S. Coast Guard decided not to take any chances with the weather and evacuated the crew Saturday afternoon. No injuries have been reported.

The Coast Guard reported 20-to-30-foot waves and 30-to-40 knot winds in the area Saturday and Smith said another night of heavy weather was expected.

“The weather on scene is testing the limits of our Coast Guard crews,” said Real Admiral Thomas Ostebo, commander of the 17th district in Juneau.

The ultimate goal is to move the Kulluk about 20 miles north to a safe inlet of Kodiak Island, but the tow vessels are not taking it directly there because of the current weather, Smith said.

Helicopter crews tried unsuccessfully Friday night and early Saturday morning to evacuate the crew of the Kulluk, but succeed in their third attempt, after winds had died down from a high of 60 mph.

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.”

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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