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)alaskadispatch.com