Investigators are trying to determine whether Shell’s drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, ran aground in Unalaska on Saturday.
Bystanders and photographs place the rig less than a hundred feet from shore. But Shell says a preliminary inspection of the hull found no damage.
Coast Guard Lieutenant Jim Fothergill says damage to the hull or propellers is the only sure sign that the ship hit the beach.
“I know they were very close to the beach, but we haven’t determined yet whether they ran aground.”
Shell plans to send divers underneath the Discoverer on Monday morning to get a closer look. The Coast Guard will check the divers’ video footage to determine whether the ship actually made contact with the beach.
Regardless of what that shows, convincing locals might be difficult. Many, like charter captain Kristjan Laxfoss, are sure the ship hit shore.
“If the captain had asked them to put the gangway down, he could have walked to the post office,” Laxfoss says.
Shell vice president Pete Slaiby characterized it as a “near miss,” but says the company is taking it very seriously.
“I don’t doubt for a minute that this came entirely too close for our comfort,” Slaiby says.
When asked specifically how the Discoverer drifted towards the beach while multiple Shell vessels – including the tugboat Lauren Foss – sat nearby, Slaiby said it was too soon to say.
“We will investigate the timeliness of the response for the Lauren Foss and others, but we’re happy that we planned and had that ship [the Lauren Foss] in harbor for such an eventuality.”
The Discoverer is slated to start drilling in the Chukchi Sea next month. Slaiby says this doesn’t change that plan.
“We will go up to the Arctic fully prepared. We’ll learn from this incident. I think it is an industry where incidents happen, and the best you can do is learn from the incident and not repeat.”
More specifically, Slaiby says the Discoverer will use eight anchors in the Arctic, as opposed to the single anchor it had on Saturday.
For the time being, the Discoverer will remain anchored in Unalaska Bay, with the Lauren Foss standing by in case of high winds.