Shell will attempt to hook tow-line to grounded Kulluk drill rig

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 days of stalled attempts and little movement, plans for getting the grounded Kulluk drilling removed from beach it rests on are starting to take shape. Unified Command plans to hook a main tow line to the Kulluk Saturday to test “capabilities in preparation for recovery operations” according to a statement from the cooperative agency.

Whether or not the plan goes forward will depend heavily on weather and tidal conditions. Unified Command spokesman Ignacio Gonzalez said today's weather window was looking “favorable” for salvage crews.

The operation has also received permission from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to move the Kulluk from its location, according to another early morning statement. It's the first notice of any sort of forward movement in five days since the Kulluk washed onto Sitkalidak Island New Year's Eve.

The conical drilling unit – a critical component of Royal Dutch Shell's plans to begin exploratory drilling in the Arctic – became detached from it's tug, the Shell-owned, Noble Drilling Corp.-operated Aiviq in rough storms in the Gulf of Alaska.

The Kulluk has no propulsion system of its own. The Kulluk remains stable and upright according to Unified Command, which consists of members of Shell, Noble, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and Kodiak Island stakeholders. However, seawater was found in the “3S7C void,” one of the many spaces between the outer and inner hull, according to Gonzalez.

The breach should not affect the vessel's stability. Unified Command reports no oil sheen in the area. The Kulluk is carrying about 140,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 10,000 gallons of various lube and hydraulic fluids. Still, booms are being placed around Kodiak Island, with particular attention to salmon streams in the area, and a wildlife protection plan has been created.

Unified Command has asked International Bird Rescue to assist in bird rescue programs should their expertise be required. In addition, protected species observers are being deployed on-scene. Multiple flights and vessels have been dispatched to aid in the Kulluk salvage efforts. Three vessels are currently staged at the Kulluk, with 12 others enroute.

On Friday, multiple flights transported salvage crews to the drilling rig and a helicopter from chartered from Era Aviation was able to land on the Kulluk's helipad – the first time a helicopter has landed on the vessel since its beaching, according to Unified Command. Weather in the area is expected favorable today, with 34 mph winds and 9-foot seas. That should remained through Saturday, through seas are expected to pick up to 17 feet starting Sunday night.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)