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Salvagers tight-lipped on Shell vessel recovery

Source : AP
Last Updated: Sat, Jan 19, 2013 03:15 hrs

The united command overseeing the salvage of Royal Dutch Shell PLC drill barge that ran aground on a remote Alaska island will release minimal information on the vessel until an assessment is completed, a spokeswoman said.

Shell's drill vessel Kulluk ran aground New Year's Eve on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island near Kodiak Island. On Jan. 6, it was pulled off the rocky bottom and towed a day later to protected waters in Kiliuda Bay within Kodiak Island.

The operation is under the direction of unified command structure made up of the Shell, the Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the Kodiak Island Borough. The unified command has acknowledged that the vessel remains upright, has not leaked fuel and has been examined by divers, but not much else.

"I know you're looking for specific answers but we wanted to let you know that due to the fact that multiple entities are involved in the assessment of data, including Unified Command, Shell, Smit Salvage and Det Norske Veritas, Unified Command will not comment on the assessment until the report is finalized," said spokeswoman Deb Sawyer by email in response to questions about the operation. She did not provide a timetable of when the report would be done.

Smit Salvage is a Holland-based salvage company. Norway-based Det Norske Veritas inspects and evaluates the condition of vessels.

The unified command said 250 people are in the Kodiak area as part of the effort and future plans for the Kulluk will be determined once a report is finished.

But the command structure declined to answer questions on how many divers and remote operated underwater vehicles were involved, what kind of data was collected, what inspectors might be looking for and whether anomalies have been detected.

The command structure also declined to say whether the inspection involves investigation of the vessel from the inside. No more details have been released Kulluk generators that were knocked out or damage from seawater that entered through hatches that should have been sealed.

The Kulluk was built in 1983 for a Canadian company and purchased by Shell in 2005. The 266-foot-diameter vessel drilled last year in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska's north coast. Its funnel-shape, reinforced hull is designed to deflect and break up moving ice, allowing it to drill beyond the short open water season.

The anchor handler Aiviq was towing the Kulluk to Seattle when the vessels ran into trouble in rough Gulf of Alaska water.

A tow line snapped Dec. 27 and a day later all four engines on the Aiviq failed, possibly due to contaminated fuel. The vessel's crew eventually regained power but four subsequent tow lines attached to the Aiviq or other vessels also failed before the grounding.

The unified command has said the Kulluk will not be moved before the end of Kodiak's tanner crab fishing season, which opened Wednesday and usually takes four to six days, said state shellfish management biologist Mark Stichert. Predicted bad weather may delay fishermen catching the quota of 520,000 pounds, he said.



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