Shell Oil's Kulluk drill rig cleared to leave Kodiak for Dutch Harbor

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 sitting and waiting for almost two months, the Kulluk is now free to go.

The Coast Guard announced Thursday that it rescinded its captain of the port order keeping Royal Dutch Shell's disabled oil rig, the Kulluk, in Kiliuda Bay. In a statement, Capt. Paul Mehler, commander of the Coast Guard Sector Alaska, said he had reviewed all relevant and available information and determined the conical drilling rig was safe to proceed to its port of destination in Dutch Harbor.

Mehler noted in the statement the Coast Guard will continue to monitor the movement of the Kulluk from Kodiak Island's Kiliuda Bay to Dutch Harbor and “will engage if needed.”

The Kulluk has remained anchored in Kiliuda Bay since Jan. 7 after it was re-floated and towed from shores of Sitkalidak Island in the Kodiak Archipelago.

The Kulluk -- a centerpiece of Shell's $4 billion Arctic drilling operation -- ran aground New Year's Eve after losing a connection with its tow, the Shell-owned Aiviq, in surging Gulf of Alaska seas. Despite multiple attempts to reconnect the Kulluk's tow lines, no tug was able to maintain control of the 266-foot diameter vessel. The Kulluk has no propulsion system of its own.

According to a fact sheet from Shell, the Kulluk will be towed by three vessels in its trip to Dutch Harbor, in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Notably missing from those three is the Aiviq. The fact sheet indicates that the ship won't be used since the “cause of the Aiviq’s loss of power is currently under investigation.”

Shell Alaska Spokesman Curtis Smith said in an email the trip from Kiliuda Bay to Dutch Harbor is expected to take seven to 10 days. When the Kulluk will begin its journey is still to be determined. Smith said there is no set departure date for the Kulluk, as poor weather in the Gulf of Alaska region has been prevalent over the last few days.

Both the Kulluk and its companion and similarly troubled drilling ship, the Noble Discoverer, are headed from Dutch Harbor to Asia to complete repairs. Smith said the dry tow schedule from Dutch Harbor to Asia remains viable, though there was still no official word on the final destination of the Kulluk. The Discoverer is headed to South Korea.

When it grounded, the Kulluk had been en route to the Port of Everett near Seattle to complete off season repairs and maintenance in preparation for this summer's Arctic drilling season. Shell has not indicated what all the troubles for its mobile drill rigs, outfitted and permitted specifically for the Arctic exploration program, will mean for the upcoming season.

When asked whether the rigs will return to Alaska following repairs in Asia, Smith said “the plan is to reintroduce the rigs to Alaska operations when they are ready.”

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)