Kulluk Unified Command disbands, troubled rig preps for Asia

Suzanna Caldwell
The anchor-handling vessel, the Alert, tows the drilling unit Kulluk to a safe harbor location in Kiliuda Bay, Alaska on Jan. 7, 2013. Photo by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.
US Coast Guard photo
The drilling unit Kulluk, towed by the anchor-handling vessel Aiviq, heads to its safe harbor location in Kiliuda Bay.
Courtesy Shell
The drilling unit Kulluk, towed by the anchor-handling vessel Aiviq, heads to its safe harbor location in Kiliuda Bay.
Courtesy Shell
The Kulluk drill rig near Sitkalidak Island off Kodiak
USCG photo
The Kulluk drill rig off Kodiak Island on Jan. 2, 2013
USCG photo
Shell Oil's drill rig Kulluk, grounded off Kodiak Island by an Arctic storm it was supposed to be built to withstand
Royal Dutch Shell's drilling ship, the Kulluk, grounded at remote Sitkalidak Island in Alaska on Jan. 1, 2013.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis footage
Waves crash over the mobile offshore drilling unit Kulluk where it sits aground on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island, Alaska, Jan. 1, 2013.
U.S. Coast Guard photo
Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, 17th Coast Guard District commander, Capt. Paul Mehler, federal on-scene coordinator for the Kulluk mishap, and Sean Churchfield, Shell’s incident commander, discuss the situation with Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Jan. 1, 2013.
USGS Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Schofield photo
Approximate location where Royal Dutch Shell's drilling ship Kulluk grounded on Sitkalidak Island, Alaska.
Coast Guard photo via Ground Trekking Truth
Ocean Bay on Sitkalidak Island in Alaska, located close to Kodiak Island's southeast shore.
Stacy Studebaker, Kodiak Audubon Society photo
The west end of Sitkalidak Island's shore Ocean Beach, where shoals are visible beneath the waves. Sitkalidak Island is located near Kodiak Island, Alaska.
Creative Commons photo via Ground Truth Trekking
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew evacuates 18 crewmen from Shell Oil's drilling ship Kulluk in 15 to 20-foot seas, 80 miles southwest of Kodiak, Alaska, on Dec. 29, 2012.
Coast Guard photo
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.
US Coast Guard photo
Royal Dutch Shell's Kulluk drillship in the Beaufort Sea in fall 2012.
Royal Dutch Shell photo
Curtis Smith, spokesperson for Shell Oil. June 1, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Shell Oil's Kulluk platform, in Seattle, May 25, 2012.
Courtesy Senator Begich's office
Shell's Aiviq support vessel in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
Shell photo
Shell Oil Alaska vice president Pete Slaiby listens to David Hayes, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, speaking at the Arctic Imperative Summit. August 26, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Royal Dutch Shell has already begun studying land and sea features to determine the best route and depth to place at least 400 miles of pipelines that can carry crude oil to the trans-Alaska pipeline. The company is considering several options across a wide swath of ocean and tundra. This map was created to provide a general idea of the direction those pipelines will take.
Aaron Jansen illustration
The Shell drilling vessel Noble Discoverer came close to shore in Unalaska on Saturday, July 14.
Kristjan B. Laxfoss photo
Shell Oil's 514-foot drill ship Noble Discoverer sits 68 miles west of Nome on Aug. 29, 2012.
U.S. Coast Guard photo
Shell Oil's exploratory drilling platform departs Seattle for Alaska on June 27, 2012.
Courtesy Vigor Industrial
The Arctic Challenger was occupied by Caspian terns while docked in Southern California in 2007.
John Potter / California DFG
The Arctic Challenger, a barge Royal Dutch Shell is renovating to use in Arctic drilling operations.
Courtesy Shell Oil
The Arctic Challenger with the newly redesigned and repaired Containment Dome move away from the Port of Bellingham, Wash. on Dec. 12. The challenger had been moored since returning in September 2012 after a catastrophic failure of the first iteration of their containment process.
TJ Guiton photo
A night shot of the workers and equipment showing a markedly armored containment dome to replace the one which suffered a catastrophic failure in September 2012 during the initial testing process in calm, predictable conditions in the Salish Sea off of Anacortes, WA. Note the lateral ribs surrounding the upper portion of the dome as well as the outer steel plates to protect the dome from damage and enhance the strength of the structure to the pressures of ocean depths.
TJ Guiton
Shell Oil tests their "capping stack" in Everett, Washington on June 25, 2012.
Courtesy Shell Oil
Shell Oil's spill response gear staged in Wainwright. Summer 2011.
Ben Anderson photo
Greenpeace boat crew protest at Shell drill ship Noble Discoverer anchored near Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska. August 5, 2012
Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace
Fennica, a Finnish icebreaker contracted to Shell's Arctic project, in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
Shell photo

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