After 38 days, it's time for the Kulluk -- a 266-foot diameter conical drilling unit that ran aground off of Kodiak Island almost two months ago -- to say goodbye to Kiliuda Bay and hello to Dutch Harbor.
That's according to the latest statement from Unified Command -- the joint operation consisting of the owners of the Kulluk, Royal Dutch Shell, U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and Kodiak Island Borough. The late-Wednesday night statement was also the last anyone will hear of the organization. In the same statement the group announced that Unified Command would be disbanding.
“Agency representatives will return to their normal roles and responsibilities," Capt. Paul Mehler III, the Coast Guard Federal On-Scene Coordinator said in the statement. “The Coast Guard will continue to monitor the activities involved in prepping the Kulluk for movement and I will lift the Captain of the Port order once all the requirements have been met.”
After weeks of assessment, analysis and on-board activity, the Kulluk is now fit to tow according to Shell. Sometime soon -- though when exactly was not clear from the statement -- the Kulluk will begin its 10-day journey to Dutch Harbor. Once in Dutch Harbor, the vessel will be prepared for its dry tow transit to Asia.
The Unified Command statement said completion of the damage assessment revealed damage in the outer hull of the Kulluk, however the inner hull -- and the fuel tanks containing nearly 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel -- were not breached. The Kulluk also encountered water damage to its “superstructure which resulted in damage to technical equipment and a breach of windows and hatches.” Those damaged windows and hatches on the Kulluk have been secured in preparation for its tow across the Gulf of Alaska.
It was a tow across the Gulf that originally caused problems for the Kulluk at the end of 2012. The vessel -- a centerpiece of Shell's $4 billion Arctic drilling operation -- was headed to the Seattle area for repairs when it encountered a violent storm in the Gulf. The ship towing the vessel, the Aiviq, suffered engine failure in the high seas and was unable to maintain a tow line with the Kulluk -- which has no propulsion system of its own. Despite numerous attempts to reattach it, none were able to secure the rig, which ran aground off of Sitkalidak Island Dec. 31.
Debris from the Kulluk lifeboats are still being collected, according to the Unified Command statement. Shell is working with the Old Harbor Native Corp. to oversee that cleanup, which is expected to take “some time” due to extreme challenges of the terrain.
On Monday, Shell announced that it would be moving both the Kulluk and it's companion ship, the Noble Discoverer, to Asia for off-season repairs. Shell has not yet commented on what the grounding incident will mean for its 2013 season.
Contact Suzanna Caldwell suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com