Marine Casualty Investigation Ordered on Kulluk Incident

The US Coast Guard has ordered a formal marine casualty
investigation into the grounding of Royal Dutch Shell’s drilling rig Kulluk
off of an uninhabited island near Kodiak in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. 
A formal marine casualty investigation is convened when a
vessel casualty has considerable regional significance, may indicate vessel
class problems, or is the best means to assess technical issues that may have
contributed to the incident.
Coast Guard officials said Jan. 8 that the Coast Guard would
lead the investigation. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and
the National Transportation Safety Board, as technical advisers, will
The investigation will probe every aspect of the incident,
including any evidence that any failure of material was involved or contributed
to the incident or whether there is evidence of misconduct, inattention,
negligence or willful violation of law.
The investigation will evaluate also several factors
associated with the Kulluk and its support vessels, to determine the cause of
the incident.
The Coast Guard said the investigation likely would take
several months to complete due to the extent and depth of its inquiry. Findings
of the investigation will position the Coast Guard to take appropriate remedial
action to address factors that contributed to the incident, officials said.
The announcement came as the Kulluk, which ran aground
on Dec. 31, remained safely anchored at Kiliuda Bay on Kodiak Island. A damage
estimate is underway.
Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell praised the several hundred people
who worked to refloat the Kulluk and get it to safe harbor. Parnell
said the grounding incident was unfortunate but that many wells have been
safely drilled in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf, and that “development of
offshore oil production is critical to our energy future.”
The Interior Department has announced plans for a high-level
assessment of the 2012 offshore drilling program in the Beaufort and Chukchi
seas to review practices and identify challenges as well as lessons learned. It
will focus special attention to challenges that Shell encountered in
certification of its containment vessel, the Arctic Challenger, the
deployment of its containment dome, and operational issues associated with its
two drilling rigs, the Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk.
Michael LeVine, Pacific senior counsel at the environmental
organization Oceana, applauded the investigation.
“The government must reassess its commitment to exploration
in difficult places like the Arctic and how it makes decisions about our ocean
resources,” LeVine said.