Royal Dutch Shell PLC will try to move its grounded drill ship out of the worst of the North Pacific’s fury with a towing attempt when conditions allow.
Shell incident commander Sean Churchfield said at a press conference Saturday that naval architects have pronounced the Kulluk fit to be towed. The attempt will depend on weather, tides and readiness, he said.
"I can’t offer you firm times. Right now, the preparation for the tow depends on the weather and operational constraints," Churchfield said. "We will be looking to move the vessel as soon as we are ready and able."
If the drill ship can be pulled from the rocks off Sitkalidak Island, it will be towed 30 miles to shelter in Kodiak Island’s Kiliuda Bay, a cove about 43 miles southeast of the city of Kodiak.
The Kulluk is a circular barge 266 feet in diameter with a funnel-shaped, reinforced steel hull that allows it to operate in ice. One of two Shell ships that drilled last year in the Arctic Ocean, it has a 160-foot derrick rising from its center and no propulsion system of its own.
The tow attempt will be made by the same vessel that lost the Kulluk last month while attempting to move it to Seattle. A line between the 360-foot anchor handler, the Aiviq, and the Kulluk broke Dec. 27. Four re-attached lines between the Aiviq or other vessels also broke in stormy weather.
Shell has reported superficial damage above the deck and seawater within that entered through open hatches. Water has knocked out regular and emergency generators, but portable generators were put on board Friday.
The condition of the hull will be key in determining whether the Kulluk can be refloated.
The Coast Guard must review and sign off on a salvage plan. Brian Thomas of the Coast Guard’s salvage engineering response team in Washington, D.C., said the team’s marine engineers give technical advice and assess risks.