Note: We've posted an updated story on the grounding of the Kulluk here.
The crisis with Royal Dutch Shell's mobile offshore drilling rig, the Kulluk, remained unresolved as of Tuesday afternoon, more than 17 hours after it grounded south of Kodiak Island in a wicked Gulf of Alaska storm. The rig appears intact and is not moving closer to land, according to leaders of a command team that includes Shell, its contractors, the U.S. Coast Guard and the state of Alaska.
Capt. Paul Mehler, the top Coast Guard commander in Anchorage, said crews launched a C-130 as well as a helicopter early Tuesday for initial assessments of the scene.
Salvaging of the abandoned Kulluk, which broke loose of at least five tows over five days, is a top priority, he said.
A big concern is the fuel on board, which Mehler described as roughly 143,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 12,000 gallons of "other petroleum products."
"The results of these overflights right now are showing us that the Kulluk is sound. There is no sign of a breach of the hull. There is no sign of a release of any product," Mehler said.
And, he said, "the Kulluk herself seems to be stable. In other words, it is not moving. Aground, but not moving. Important difference."
That will help salvage crews, who have been stymied by a storm with winds gusting to 70 mph and 50-foot seas.
The press briefing lasted only about 30 minutes and a Shell spokesman who moderated it allowed only four questions. But when a Daily News reporter protested, the command group agreed to answer more questions at 5 p.m.
The Kulluk response team has swelled from earlier reports of 250 people to some 500 people, counting crews aboard vessels at the scene who weren't included in earlier tallies. And there's "many more coming," Mehler said.
The command headquarters are at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown but a staging area is set up in the city of Kodiak harbor, according to the DEC.
The rig grounded just before 9 p.m. Monday about 500 feet offshore the southeast edge of Sitkalidak Island between the north edge of Ocean Bay and Partition Cove, the command group said. The shoreline is mixed sand and gravel beaches, and the rig, with a draft of 41 feet, may have hit rocks in water 32 to 48 feet deep.
Sean Churchfield, Shell's operations manager for Alaska, told reporters three people have suffered minor injuries but all were back on duty.
"The Kulluk is upright, rocking with a slow motion, but stable," he said. A Coast Guard photoand video from the scene shows huge waves crashing on the big rig.
There's no sign of injury to endangered and threatened species, included Steller sea lions, Steller eiders and Southwest sea otters, that live in the area, or harm to other wildlife, the DEC's Steven Russell said.
Officials are working with tribal and local leaders and are trying to determine specifically who owns the nearby land. The area is uninhabited but the village of Old Harbor is nearby. The Old Harbor Native Corporation is the primary landowner in the area and the village of Old Harbor also owns some land, Russell said.
The 266-foot-diameter Kulluk is one of two Shell drilling rigs used this year for exploratory drilling offshore in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and it was the Kulluk that Shell was most proud of. Shell bought the 1983 rig in 2005 and invested $292 million in upgrades in upgrades for the Alaska Arctic, the company says.
Churchfield told reporters he didn't know the total amount of money Shell had invested in the rig.
Kulluk left a Shell staging area in Dutch Harbor on Dec. 21 for a long, slow transit across the Gulf of Alaska then south to a shipyard near Seattle for off-season maintenance. While no big storm was forecast when it left, the slow pace means Shell and its Noble Drilling Co. crew didn't know what they might encounter along the way.
The troubles started Thursday night when the tow buckle attaching it to a specially built Shell-contracted vessel, the massive 360-foot-long Aiviq, suffered a mechanical failure. The $200 million Aiviq is owned by Edison Chouest, a Louisiana-based marine company. The Aiviq then lost power to all four engines and though they were repaired and restarted, repeated efforts to secure the Kulluk to various ships failed.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.
The vessels involved
Video of Coast Guard evacuation of Kulluk crew
Map of the grounding area
By LISA DEMER