Coast Guard hearing on Shell drill-rig grounding set to start May 20

A formal Coast Guard hearing investigating the circumstances of the grounding of Royal Dutch Shell's drilling rig, the Kulluk, begins at noon May 20 in Anchorage.

The hearing will take place in the Anchorage Assembly chambers at Loussac Library and is scheduled for 10 days, though it could wrap up sooner or go longer, said Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow.

Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, who is the commander of the Coast Guard in Alaska, ordered a marine casualty investigation days after the Dec. 31 grounding off Sitkalidak Island, on the southern end of Kodiak Island. The investigation is a fact-finding effort to see if actions need to be taken to prevent such failures in the future, Wadlow said. It is not a criminal proceeding. The Coast Guard already has referred possible pollution violations involving the Kulluk and safety and environmental issues with Shell's other drilling rig, the Noble Discoverer, to the Justice Department.

Cmdr. Joshua McTaggart from the Coast Guard Investigations National Center of Expertise in New Orleans is leading the marine casualty investigation. The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the National Transportation Safety Board are also participating, as are others from the Coast Guard.

Witnesses from the Coast Guard, Shell, Noble Drilling Corp. and others will be called to testify about the circumstance surrounding the grounding.

"It's going to run a complete gamut of weather conditions, equipment, that kind of thing," Wadlow said.

The Kulluk, a circular rig reinforced for ice conditions, was refloated and eventually transported aboard a special vessel to a shipyard in Singapore for repairs.

Shell has cancelled its plans for drilling this year.



Anchorage Daily News /