By Kim Murphy
1 January 2013
(Los Angeles Times) – Days of efforts trying to guide a mobile offshore drilling rig through stormy Alaska seas hit a crisis Monday night when crew members were forced to disconnect the rig from its last remaining tow line and the vessel went aground on a small island south of Kodiak.
“The first priority was the safety of the people,” said Darci Sinclair, spokeswoman for the unified command of U.S. Coast Guard, Shell Alaska and drill ship owners who had been trying mightily to avoid just such an eventuality ever since the Kulluk rig first ran into trouble Thursday night.
The 266-foot conical drill barge first broke free of its lines last week while being towed back to port in Seattle after a summer season of drilling off the coast of Arctic Alaska. Troubles mounted when the tow vessel, the Aiviq, lost all four of its engines due to possible fuel contamination, and the drill rig was briefly adrift.
Over the weekend, the Aiviq’s engines were repaired and a second vessel was able to join it in towing the Kulluk toward safety in Kodiak. All 17 crew members on the Kulluk, which does not have its own propulsion system, were evacuated. But though the Kulluk was attached to two different towing vessels by Monday afternoon, high seas and strong winds continued to pose problems.
A line to the first tow vessel was separated at about 4:40 p.m. Then, with winds gusting to nearly 70 mph and swells of up to 40 feet, incident commanders were forced to disengage the last remaining line connecting the Kulluk to the second tow vessel, the Alert, in order to protect the Alert's nine-member crew.
The rig was about four miles away from land at that point, incident commanders estimated.
“Once that final tow line was released, about 45 minutes later, it ran aground,” Sinclair told the Los Angeles Times. [more]