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Kulluk's ability to take a beating impresses experts

Richard Mauer
The tugboat AIVIQ sits at the dock at Pier 2 in the Kodiak harbor as a seine boat passes by on Friday, January 4, 21013.
Bob Hallinen
A salvage team aboard the conical drilling unit Kulluk moves an emergency towing system delivered the Kulluk by a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. The Kulluk is located 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, on the shore of Sitkalidak Island. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Marsh.
Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Marsh
Incident responders work together across maps and satellite images at the Unified Command center in Anchorage, Alaska, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. Several hundred response experts have gathered together in Anchorage to coordinate response efforts and ensure the safety of operations during the ongoing response to the grounded conical drilling unit Kulluk off shore of Sitkalidak Island more than 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City.
Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley
The Coast Guard Cutter SPAR takes water over the bow while underway in the vicinity of the mobile drilling unit Kulluk in 23 mph winds and 4-foot seas more than 40 miles south of Kodiak City, Alaska, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. The SPAR, a 225-foot buoy tender homeport in Kodiak, was on stand by to assist the tugs and the Kulluk for the past several days.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicolas Santos
The tugs Aiviq and Nanuq tow the mobile drilling unit Kulluk while a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Kodiak delivers parts to the tug Aiviq crew so they can make engine repairs while underway 80 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012. The tug lost the initial tow Thursday and suffered several engine failures prompting the deployment of response assets by the Coast Guard and Royal Dutch Shell. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Sara Francis
A US Coast Guard helicopter sits on the tarmac at the Coast Guard base in Kodiak on Friday, January 4, 21013.
Bob Hallinen
The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits aground 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, on the shore of Sitkalidak Island Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. Salvage crews are working to remove the Kulluk from the beach. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Marsh.
Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Marsh
The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits aground on the southeast shore of Sitkalidak Island about 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, in 40 mph winds and 20-foot seas Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. The Kulluk grounded following many efforts by tug and Coast Guard crews to tow the vessel to a safe harbor when it was beset by winter storm weather during a tow from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Everett, Wash.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
Four technicians return to Air Station Kodiak after visiting the mobile drilling unit Kulluk 52 miles south of Kodiak Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. The MH-60 Jayhawk aircrew hoisted the technicians from the Kulluk in 63 mph winds and 20 to 30-foot seas.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Kodiak delivers mechanical parts to the tug Aiviq crew while underway 80 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012. The Aiviq suffered several engine failures while towing the mobile drilling unit Kulluk and required parts to conduct repairs. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Sara Francis
The tugboat Nanuq backs in to the dock as the tugboat AIVIQ sits at the dock at Pier 2 in the Kodiak harbor on Friday, January 4, 21013.
Bob Hallinen
The unified command for the Kulluk response receives a mission overview from the pilots of an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter at Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, prior to an overflight of the conical drilling unit Kulluk Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. The Kulluk is located 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, on the shore of Sitkalidak Island. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara francis.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander, 17th Coast Guard District and D17 Incident Management Team commander, observes the conical drilling unit Kulluk from an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter during a second overflight Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. The Kulluk grounded on the southeast shore of Sitkalidak Island Monday night.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew returns to Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, with four technicians from the mobile drilling unit Kulluk 52 miles south of Kodiak Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. The technicians were hoisted to the Kulluk to assess the vessel and the gear aboard.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Kodiak conducts hoists of the first six of 18 crewmen from the mobile drilling unit Kulluk 80 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012. The Coast Guard was prompted to rescue the crew of the Kulluk after there were problems with the tow Thursday and the weather conditions began to deteriorate. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Sara Francis
The tugboat AIVIQ sits at the dock at Pier 2 in the Kodiak harbor as a seine boat passes by on Friday, January 4, 21013.
Bob Hallinen
The salvage team returns to Air Station Kodiak from work aboard the conical drilling unit Kulluk Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. The Kulluk is located 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, on the shore of Sitkalidak Island. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, Seventeenth Coast Guard District Commander, Capt. Paul Mehler, Federal On Scene Coordinator for the Kulluk Tow Incident and Sean Churchfield, Shell Incident Commander talk with Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Senator for the State of Alaska, about current operations and incident command functions at the Kulluk Tow Incident Command Post at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown hotel Tuesday Jan. 1, 2013 in Anchorage.
Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Schofield
Cmdr. John Hollingsworth, engineering officer Air Station Kodiak, discusses handheld radio operatins with salvage technicians at the air station in Kodiak, Alaska, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. An air station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew safely delivered the four technicians to the Kulluk 46 miles south of Kodiak City.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Kodiak conducts hoists of the first six of 18 crewmen from the mobile drilling unit Kulluk 80 miles southwest of Kodiak City Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012. The Coast Guard was prompted to rescue the crew of the Kulluk after there were porblems with the tow Friday and the weather conditions began to deteriorate. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Sara Francis
Three life rafts (two pictured) sit on the beach adjacent to the conical drilling unit Kulluk, 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012. The Kulluk grounded after many efforts by tug vessel crews and Coast Guard crews to move the vessel to safe harbor during a winter storm during a tow from Dutch Harbor, Alaska to Everett, Wash. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter
The salvage team returns to Air Station Kodiak from work aboard the conical drilling unit Kulluk Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. The Kulluk is located 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, on the shore of Sitkalidak Island. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits aground on the southeast shore of Sitkalidak Island about 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, in 40 mph winds and 20-foot seas Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. The Kulluk grounded following many efforts by tug and Coast Guard crews to tow the vessel to a safe harbor when it was beset by winter storm weather during a tow from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Everett, Wash.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew discusses upcoming hoist operations at the air station in Kodiak, Alaska, prior to departure Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. The aircrew safely delivered four slavage technicians to the mobile drilling unit Kulluk 46 miles south of Kodiak City.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Kodiak conducts hoists of the first six of 18 crewmen from the mobile drilling unit Kulluk 80 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012. The tug Aiviq suffered problems towing the Kulluk Thursday prompting the Coast Guard to deploy cutters and aircraft to while Royal Dutch Shell dispatched additiona tugs. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Sara Francis
A life raft belonging to the conical drilling unit Kulluk, sits on the beach adjacent to the barge 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012. The Kulluk grounded after many efforts by tug vessel crews and Coast Guard crews to move the vessel to safe harbor during a winter storm. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter
The unified command for the Kulluk response returns to Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, aboard an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, from an overflight of the conical drilling unit Kulluk Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. The Kulluk is located 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, on the shore of Sitkalidak Island. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg
The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits aground on the southeast shore of Sitkalidak Island about 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, in 40 mph winds and 20-foot seas Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. The Kulluk grounded following many efforts by tug and Coast Guard crews to tow the vessel to a safe harbor when it was beset by winter storm weather during a tow from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Everett, Wash.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
Petty Officer 2nd Class Mike Wallace, an aviation maintenance technician and flight mechanic at Air Station Kodiak, gives four salvage technicians a safety brief in a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter at the air station in Kodiak, Alaska, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. The salvage team was safely delivered to the mobile drilling unit Kulluk 46 miles south of Kodiak City by a Jayhawk aircrew.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Kodiak conducts hoists of the second of 18 crewmen from the mobile drilling unit Kulluk in 15 to 20-foot seas 80 miles southwest of Kodiak City Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012. The Coast Guard was prompted to rescue the crew of the Kulluk after there were porblems with the tow Thursday and the weather conditions began to deteriorate. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Sara Francis
The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits grounded 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012. The Kulluk grounded after many efforts by tug vessel crews and Coast Guard crews to move the vessel to safe harbor during a winter storm. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter
The unified command for the Kulluk response prepares to depart aboard an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter at Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, prior to an overflight of the conical drilling unit Kulluk Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. The Kulluk is located 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, on the shore of Sitkalidak Island. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg
Members of a DonJon-SMIT salvage team prepare their gear at Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. The salvage team conducted an aerial survey of the conical drilling unit Kulluk 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, from a Coast Guard helicopter.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
Four members of a salvage team get geared up at Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, to be delivered by Coast Guard helicopter to the mobile drilling unit Kulluk 46 miles south of Kodiak City, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. The salvage team was safely delivered to the Kulluk to conduct assessments of the vessel and the gear aboard.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Kodiak conducts the 13th hoist of 18 crewmen from the mobile drilling unit Kulluk 80 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012. The tug Aiviq suffered problems towing the Kulluk Thursday prompting the Coast Guard to deploy cutters and aircraft to while Royal Dutch Shell dispatched additiona tugs. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Sara Francis
Members of a salvage team prepare to depart Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter for another day of operations aboard the conical drilling unit Kulluk aground 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. The salvage team is continuing to survey the vessel for damage and work to develop salvage plans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
The unified command for the Kulluk response receives a mission breifing from the pilots of an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter at Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, prior to an overflight of the conical drilling unit Kulluk Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. The Kulluk is located 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, on the shore of Sitkalidak Island. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg
U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler III speaks at a Unified Command press conference Tuesday afternoon Jan. 1, 2013 at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown hotel.
Erik Hill
Salvage technicians board an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter at Air Station Kodiak in Kodiak, Alaska, for delivery to the mobile drilling unit Kulluk Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. The four technicians were safely hoisted to the Kulluk 46 miles south of Kodiak in 23 mph winds and 4-foot seas.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
The tugs Aiviq and Nanuq tow the mobile drilling unit Kulluk while a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Kodiak hoists the 14 membr of the Kulluk's 18 member crew 80 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012. The tug lost the initial tow Thursday and suffered several engine failures prompting the deployment of response assets by the Coast Guard and Royal Dutch Shell. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Sara Francis
Members of a salvage team prepare to depart Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter for another day of operations aboard the conical drilling unit Kulluk aground 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. The salvage team is continuing to survey the vessel for damage and work to develop salvage plans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
The emergency towing system hangs on a pendant below an Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter for delivery to the conical drilling unit Kulluk Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. The Kulluk is located 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, on the shore of Sitkalidak Island. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Marsh.
Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Marsh
Waves crash over the mobile offshore drilling unit Kulluk where it sits aground on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island, Alaska, Jan. 1, 2013. A Unified Command, consisting of the Coast Guard, federal, state, local and tribal partners and industry representatives was established in response to the grounding.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg
An emergency towing system, rigged for delivery by Coast Guard helicopter, sits on deck at Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. The ETS is availble for use by response crews and can be delivered by helicopter or vessel to a vessel of opportunity or a tug to provide towing equipment in an emergency. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
Members of a salvage team prepare to depart Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter for another day of operations aboard the conical drilling unit Kulluk aground 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. The salvage team is continuing to survey the vessel for damage and work to develop salvage plans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
The unified command returns to Kodiak aboard an Air Station Kodiak MH-65 Dolphin helicopter following an overflight of the conical drilling unit Kulluk Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. The Kulluk is located 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, on the shore of Sitkalidak Island. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Marsh.
Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Marsh
From left Tommy Travis of Noble Drilling Corporation, Sean Churchfield of Shell Alaska, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler III and Steve Russell of the state Dept. of Environmental Conservation answer a few questions at a Unified Command press conference Tuesday afternoon Jan. 1, 2013 at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown hotel.
Erik Hill
The mobile drilling unit Kulluk is towed by the tugs Aiviq and Nanuq in 29 mph winds and 20-foot seas 116 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. The 18 crewmembers of the Kulluk were successfully hoisted from the vessel Saturday by Coast Guard helicopter crews from Air Station Kodiak.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Usher
Members of a salvage team prepare to depart Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter for another day of operations aboard the conical drilling unit Kulluk aground 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. The salvage team is continuing to survey the vessel for damage and work to develop salvage plans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits aground 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, on the shore of Sitkalidak Island Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. Salvage crews are working to remove the Kulluk from the beach. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Marsh.
Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Marsh
Sean Churchfield of Shell Alaska speaks at a Unified Command press conference Tuesday afternoon Jan. 1, 2013 at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown hotel. Behind him is a map of Kodiak Island, with a blue pin marking the site of the Kulluk grounding.
Erik Hill
A Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft from Air Station Kodiak overflies the tugs Aiviq and Nanuq tandem towing the mobile drilling unit Kulluk 116 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. The tug Alert from Prince William Sound and the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley from Kodiak are en route to assist.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Usher
The tugboat Nanuq comes into Kodiak Harbor at Pier 2 in Kodiak on Friday, January 4, 21013.
Bob Hallinen
A member of a salvage team prepares to depart Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter for another day of operations aboard the conical drilling unit Kulluk aground 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. The salvage team is continuing to survey the vessel for damage and work to develop salvage plans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits aground 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, on the shore of Sitkalidak Island Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. Salvage crews are working to remove the Kulluk from the beach. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Marsh.
Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Marsh
Sean Churchfield of Shell Alaska, left, speaks as U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler III listens at a Unified Command press conference Tuesday afternoon Jan. 1, 2013 at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown hotel.
Erik Hill
The tugs Aiviq and Nanuq tow tandem tow the mobile driling unit Kulluk 116 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. The tugs are attempting to tow the Kulluk to a sheltered area but weather conditions, including 29 mph winds and 20-foot seas, have prevented them from taking the necessary northernly course.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Usher
The tugboat AIVIQ sits at the dock at Pier 2 in the Kodiak harbor with a security guard manning the entrance to the dock on Friday, January 4, 21013.
Bob Hallinen
Members of a salvage team listen to an aircraft operations briefing prior to departing Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter for another day of operations aboard the conical drilling unit Kulluk aground 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. The salvage team is continuing to survey the vessel for damage and work to develop salvage plans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
A salvage team aboard the conical drilling unit Kulluk wraps up lines from an emergency towing system delivered by a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. The Kulluk is located 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, on the shore of Sitkalidak Island. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Marsh.
Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Marsh
A pin marks the site of the Kulluk grounding on a map displayed at a Unified Command press conference Monday evening Dec. 31, 2012 at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown hotel.
Erik Hill
The tug Aiviq travels at just under 2 mph with the mobile drilling unit Kulluk in tow 116 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. The Aiviq is tandem towing the Kulluk with the tug Nanuq in 29 mph winds and 20-foot seas limiting their maximum speed, so they can safely control the tow.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Usher
The tugboat Nanuq comes into Kodiak Harbor at Pier 2 in Kodiak on Friday, January 4, 21013.
Bob Hallinen
Cmdr. Mark Vislay, an Mh-60 Jayhawk pilot and the Air Station operations officer, gives an aviation operations brief to the salvage team prior to departing Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter for another day of operations aboard the conical drilling unit Kulluk aground 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. The salvage team is continuing to survey the vessel for damage and work to develop salvage plans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits aground on the southeast shore of Sitkalidak Island about 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, in 40 mph winds and 20-foot seas Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. The Kulluk grounded following many efforts by tug and Coast Guard crews to tow the vessel to a safe harbor when it was beset by winter storm weather during a tow from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Everett, Wash.
Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis
U.S. Coast Guard Commander Shane Montoya addresses questions at a Unified Command press conference following the grounding of the Kulluk drilling rig Monday evening Dec. 31, 2012 at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown hotel.
Erik Hill
Crewmembers of the mobile drilling unit Kulluk arrive safely at Air Station Kodiak after being airlifted by a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from the vessel 80 miles southwest of Kodiak, Saturday, Dec. 28, 2012. A total of 18 crewmembers of the mobile drilling unit were airlifted to safety after they suffered issues and setbacks with the tug and tow. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.
Jonathan Klingenberg.
The harbor tugboat Brian T stands by as the tugboat Nanuq ties up at the Kodiak Harbor at Pier 2 in Kodiak on Friday, January 4, 21013.
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN /Anchorage Daily News In a driving rain tugboat Alert crewmember Mike Mueller, from Homer, feeds a fresh water line to a worker on the deck of the Alert at pier 2 in the Kodiak boat harbor on Wednesday, January 2, 2013. The Alert just docked in Kodiak after being part of the attempt to tow the Shell drill rig Kulluk to safety. Mueller said, "We really hated to let her go. We hung onto it as long as we could. We had 1800 feet of tow wire and a Prince William Sound Tow Package." 130102
Bob Hallinen
Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Francis Schiano, a marine science technician at Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, works with Svetlana Kiriako, a Shell employee, as they review information about response vessel locations and assignments at the Unified Command response center in Anchorage, Alaska, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. Coast Guard members from across the state and the country are coordinating response efforts with members of the State of Alaska, local communities and industry representatives to ensure a safe response to the grounded conical drilling unit Kulluk off shore of Sitkalidak Island more than 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City.
Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley
A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-65 Jayhawk helicopter crew delivers personnel to the conical drilling unit Kulluk, southeast of Kodiak, Alaska, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. Response crews have been fighting severe weather in the Gulf of Alaska while working with the Kulluk and its tow vessel Aiviq.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Kodiak conducts a basket hoist of parts to the tug Aiviq crew 80 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012. The Coast Guard conducted the deivery of parts to the tug so they could make repairs and regain full power as they tow the mobile drilling unit Kulluk. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Sara Francis
A semi drives down the highway with load of line on its way to be delivered to the tugboat AIVIQ at the dock at Pier 2 in the Kodiak harbor on Friday, January 4, 21013.
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN /Anchorage Daily News Tanner crap pots are loaded onto the deck of skipper/wwner Brad Blondin's fishing vessel My Beauty in the Kodiak boat harbor on Wednesday, January 2, 2013. Blondin is getting ready for a tanner crab opening east of Kodiak Island on January 15th. Blondin said, “That is about where we crab fish”, referring to the grounding of the Shell drill rig. “If it were to start leaking diesel I hope it won’t stop us from crab fishing.” 130102
Bob Hallinen
Responders from federal, state, local, tribal and industry work together at the Unified Command center in Anchorage, Alaska, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. Response crews in Anchorage are coordinating efforts with crews deployed in Kodiak and offshore of Sitkalidak Island during the ongoing response to the grounding of the conical drilling unit Kulluk.
Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley
The tow vessel Aiviq (left) and the tug Alert tow the conical drilling unit Kulluk through rough seas southeast of Kodiak, Alaska, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. Response crews have been fighting severe weather in the Gulf of Alaska while working with the Kulluk and its tow vessel Aiviq.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan
The tug Nanuq and the tug Aiviq (not pictured) tow the mobile drilling unit Kulluk in 15 to 20-foot seas 80 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012. The tug Aiviq lost the initial tow Thursday and suffered several engine failures prompting the deployment of response assets by the Coast Guard and Royal Dutch Shell. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.
Sara Francis

Update, 1 a.m.:

The Shell drilling rig Kulluk was successfully refloated from Sitkalidak Isiand at 10:10 p.m. Sunday, officials said. Read the updated story here.

Original story:

Neither Shell nor the Coast Guard are talking about their full plans for getting the stranded Kulluk drilling rig floating again and into a shipyard, assuming that can happen before spring brings an end to the season of ferocious storms.

But that hasn't stopped other experts from wondering what will happen or what they themselves might do under the circumstances.

Far away from Alaska on Throggs Neck, a little finger of the Bronx that juts into Long Island Sound, Richard Burke has been following events with professional curiosity, listening to teleconferenced news conferences from Anchorage and watching online videos shot from Coast Guard helicopters.

Burke is a professor of engineering at the State University of New York Maritime College and director of the Global Maritime Center for Research, Development, Education & Training. He said he is amazed by how much punishment the Kulluk, Royal Dutch Shell's Arctic offshore rig, has taken without breaking up.

"It's built like a brick battleship," he said in a telephone interview last week. "This barge is quite valuable. Getting it off intact is pretty important from an economic perspective."

Much closer to home, Dan Magone of Magone Marine Service in Dutch Harbor, from where the Kulluk set sail Dec. 21 for a Seattle shipyard, also said the round-bottom vessel is unusual.

"If it was a regular ship, a drill ship, or a barge type of thing -- man, it'd really be in bad shape, because of the pounding it's taking," Magone said in a recent interview. "It's possible that that thing is still relatively intact."

Magone is correct, according to salvage experts who inspected the Kulluk last week -- after his interview with the Daily News -- and reported that the Kulluk was damaged, with at least one flooded space below deck, but seaworthy.

The Kulluk's rescuers are some of the best in the business: Smit International, based in the Netherlands, and Donjon Marine, headquartered in New Jersey. Both are deeply involved in one of the biggest salvage jobs in the world, removing the Costa Concordia cruise ship from the rocks off the coast of Italy.

Reached by phone, Donjon's salvage master, John Witte Jr., said he couldn't talk about the Kulluk. Smit didn't respond to an email sent to headquarters in Rotterdam.

Burke said one of the most important attributes the Kulluk salvage team can have right now is patience.

"You don't try to refloat the vessel until you are well prepared, believe you have a high probability of success, and the conditions are right, both the tide and wind," he said. "If the ship is stable and it's tacked down, a little patience is called for to make sure you get completely ready to do a successful operation to get it off."

The rig's estimated weight is approximately 21,000 tons.

One common technique is to lighten a grounded vessel as much as possible, removing whatever equipment and fuel can be taken off, and at the same time filling ballast tanks and even fuel tanks with seawater, Burke said.

The additional seawater puts the vessel harder on the ground and keeps it from moving around in storms or tides, further damaging its bottom, as the excess weight is removed. But when conditions are right to attempt the tow, the seawater can be quickly pumped out or forced out with compressed air, restoring as much buoyancy to the vessel as possible in a short amount of time. That, in turn, reduces its drag on the bottom and means it doesn't have to be pulled as far before it starts to float -- assuming its hull isn't too damaged.

"If there's enough water ballast on board, when there's a suitably high tide all they would have to do is pump off the water ballast, then have the tugs pull it off," Burke said. "Everything would be geared to make the ship as light as possible at the right time so that the towing operation has a high probability of success."

Incident command officials said this week that they don't intend to remove the 155,000 gallons of fuel and other petroleum products on board. That itself would be risky because a long hose or pipe would have to be used, since no response vessel can pull up alongside. There was also no plan to disassemble and airlift off the heavy derrick, piece by piece, from the deck using the powerful Army Chinook helicopters brought to the scene -- at least not now.

"As it stands at the moment, there is absolutely no plan to remove any of the equipment with the Chinooks," Sean Churchfield, Shell's Alaska operations manager, said at a news conference Saturday.

Even though the fuel likely weighs more than 1.1 million pounds, Burke said he understood the reluctance to remove it.

"The last thing you want is the hose breaking and as a consequence you get an oil spill," he said. "You'd have thousands of gallons in the hose, which would make a mess. And they (have) got to have some place to pump it to, and from what I can see from the photographs, there's nothing there."

The towboats are another consideration, Burke said. The powerful, four-engine Aiviq, owned by Edison Chouest of Louisiana, was especially built to tow the Kulluk, but it suffered failure of all four engines during the journey to Seattle -- a contributing factor in the grounding.

"The problem is, whatever happened for her to lose power during the tow, you've got to worry about the reliability of that vessel," Burke said.

Incident response officials have decided that the Aiviq will be the lead towing vessel with help from the Alert -- another powerful tug, owned by Crowley Maritime, that is normally stationed in Valdez. The Alert tried to save the Kulluk before the grounding, but it couldn't make headway in the vicious storm pounding the ships on New Year's Eve. Being pulled toward shore, the tug had to cut loose.

On Sunday, vessel tracking reports showed the Aiviq and the Alert maneuvering in the vicinity of the Kulluk off Sitkalidak Island, south of Kodiak Island. At 4 p.m., the Unified Command said the salvage team had successfully attached a main towline to the rig.

Burke said he knows of salvage operations that have used as many as five tugs, "but those have been very specially designed operations."

Magone, the salvage expert from Dutch Harbor, expects the Kulluk incident command will try to move quickly once everything is in place.

"You only get a brief window, typically, this time of year, where you're going to have a calm sea state back there," he said. "You wouldn't need very calm seas if the thing's relatively intact to just get a crew on there and make up towing and pull it the heck out of there." But if that fails, a "convoluted" plan B might entail removing the fuel and securing the vessel.

While the weather has been decent the last week -- allowing an Army Chinook to lower a big generator to the Kulluk's deck to replace the power system wrecked in the storms -- it won't last, Magone said.

"All you know is the weather's going to be bad because it's that time of year -- it's the worst time of the year," he said.

And that was true when the Kulluk left Dutch Harbor -- something he's still wondering about.

"They apparently have more faith in their equipment than they ought to have had, and not enough experience in the Gulf of Alaska because, from my perspective, this was not a prudent time to be taking that vessel anyway. That drill rig should've stayed in Unalaska where they built a special dock for it. Who knows if that dock will ever get to see it again?"

Magone expects that even if the Kulluk is worth fixing, it will take a long time to complete repairs on both the vessel and its machinery and wiring.

"I don't see how they could get it fixed fast enough to get it on their program for this coming year, which is a huge blow to their plans," he said. "Unless I'm really surprised and find out that, 'Oh, no, everything's intact, nothing got wet, we just lost some materials over the side' -- that may be the case, but I doubt it. I'll bet it's pretty darn serious, and if it is, it's gonna be a terrific amount of work."

 

Reach Richard Mauer at rmauer@adn.com or 257-4345.

 

 

Video: Coast Guard overflight of Kulluk
By RICHARD MAUER
rmauer@adn.com