An environmental saga that began in late December when a tug
lost its towline to a $290 million drill rig in rough seas south of Kodiak
Island has raised new issues about the adequacy of these tugs to haul oil
tankers in heavy weather.
officials, and representatives of Royal Dutch Shell, owner of the 18,681-ton,
266-foot wide Kulluk, had determined that the vessel
grounded on a rocky area offshore of Sitkalidak Island remained stable and
upright, and fit to be towed, weather permitting.
refloated. By 3 a.m. on Jan. 7, the Kulluk was in tow
by the tug Aiviq, traveling at 4.8 knots, and was 19 miles
from land, the Unified Command said.
there were no visible signs of a sheen, which would indicate leakage of any of
the 143,000 gallons of diesel fuel, plus another 12,000 gallons of other
petroleum products, including hydraulic fluid, on board.
there was superficial damage above the deck and that seawater had entered some
open hatches, and that water had knocked out regular and emergency generators
News publication deadline, US Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler III, the
federal on-scene coordinator, said safety of response personnel remained the
Unified Command’s top priority.
difficult weather conditions must be managed without compromising safety,”
Mehler said. “Our timeline is still difficult to nail down, but we are
committed to seeing this response through to a safe conclusion. Understand that
as recovery operations develop, it may be necessary to alter our plans to
address new issues or concerns.”
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said the Kullukrecovery
operation did not pose an environmental threat that would preclude the opening
of the tanner crab fishery set to open in mid-January. The DEC is consulting
with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on a regular basis to monitor any
impact that the recovery operation might have on the tanner crab fishery and
other commercial, subsistence and sport fisheries, he said.
said that throughout the response, it has been important to Unified Command
that they consider environmental concerns and cultural sensitivity in the
recovery plan, to the greatest degree possible.
professor and marine conservation specialist with the University of Alaska,
said there was a much larger issue meriting citizen discussion: the adequacy of
tugs used currently in Prince William Sound, to tow not only the drill rig Kulluk,
but loaded oil tankers with tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil in heavy
weather, including emergency situations, such as that involving the Kulluk.
Valdez oil spill created an environmental disaster in Prince
William Sound on March 24, 1989. “We don’t want that again.”
as an opportunity to reevaluate all emergency towing capacity for all Alaska
waters, including Prince William Sound, the Aleutians and the Arctic, because
obviously, Houston, we have a problem,” Steiner said. “We need to use this as
an opportunity to fix what is broken throughout the system.”
in service, there are none available on short notice in the Aleutians or the
Arctic. “This is the time to look at all the emergency towing throughout
Alaska,” he said. “I think the Kulluk on the beach is
the best thing that’s happened to environmental safety in Alaska in years, if
it helps prevent Exxon Valdez Two.”
the Kulluk and what gear is aboard the Aiviq,
the tug assigned to tow the Kulluk 30 miles to shelter
at Kiliuda Bay, a cove about 43 miles southeast of the city of Kodiak, Steiner
not have onboard a Markey Asymmetric Render and Recovery towing winch, which
mariners consider to be the best available technology in a towing winch.
Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council in Anchorage, written by a prominent
Vancouver, British Columbia naval architect and marine engineering firm,
received in August of 2012.
majority of operators agree that the electric-driven Markey Render-recover
winch is the best winch technology on the market today.
investigation into the nature of the towing systems in use aboard the existing
escort tugboats in use within the Ship Escort response Vessel System in Valdez,
and to determine how those systems compare to what can be considered as the
current best available technology in escort towing systems worldwide.
Guard, state of Alaska and local officials, was making efforts to move the
grounded drill ship out of the stormy waters south of Kodiak as soon as
the news conference on Jan. 5, that the exact timing of a potential towing
activity would depend on weather, tides and operational readiness. “Once
Unified Command confirms that the operation is safe and ready to move forward,
the recovery operation will begin,” he said.
the Kulluk, is the same tug that lost its tow to the Kulluk in
December, in the midst of an effort to move the drill rig from Dutch Harbor to
Seattle for maintenance.
what was anticipated as a three-to-four week trip hauling theKulluk to
a 300-foot, $260 million vessel, and the Kulluk broke.
Then four re-attached lines between the Aiviq or other
vessels also broke in stormy seas.
to all four of its engines about 50 miles southwest of Kodiak Island and the
Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley, which is based at Kodiak,
came to try and connect a second towline, but lines from the Alex
Haley got tangled in its port propeller and it was ordered back to
Kodiak for repairs.
restored to the Aiviq, but the Kulluk continued
to drift. On the night of Dec. 28, Shell asked the Coast Guard to evacuate the
18 crewmembers aboard the Kulluk because of the roll
and pitch of the rig. An initial attempt by Coast Guard helicopters to evacuate
the Kulluk crew failed because of 50 mile-an-hour winds
and 20-foot seas.
engine parts to the Aiviq via helicopter and also
evacuate all 18 Kullukcrewmembers. All four engines on the Aiviq were
restarted and the tug Nanuq, from Seward, had established a
tow line to theAiviq, which had a tow line to the Kulluk.
Kulluk separated in stormy seas, stormy weather continued and the drill rig was
drifting north from about 25 miles south of Kodiak Island.
to the Aiviq and the Alert, another
tug from Prince William Sound, but in late afternoon the tow line from the Aiviq broke
and the Alert was having engine problems, so the Alert was
ordered to disconnect from the Kullukto avoid danger to nine
crewmen aboard the Alert. The drill rig, again adrift,
grounded that night on the northern end of Ocean Bay on the southeast side of
Sitkalidak Island, where it remained on Jan. 6, as efforts to tow it continued.
said that in-depth investigations into the incident would be conducted. Plans
at present are for the US Coast Guard investigation report to be made public.
Royal Dutch Shell has so far declined to make public its investigation report.
grounding of the drill rig to date, although Shell has said it would cover