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Fire Crews Respond to Engine Explosion on Shell Drill Rig

A contained explosion aboard Shell’s Noble Discoverer drill rig sent fire crews in Unalaska scrambling this morning. Ports Director Peggy McLaughlin says she felt the blast from the harbor office, which is about 200 yards away.

“It was almost like a backfire, a ginormous [sic] backfire is what I would equate it to, but because of the size of the vessel, it was pretty big. And when we looked out we could actually see the smoke coming out of the top of the landing pad there and so it was one of those, ‘we need to make a call and make sure it doesn’t get out of control.’”

McLaughlin says stack fires are common aboard vessels, but can get out of control. She says this one didn’t and that the Noble Discoverer’s crew responded quickly.

“When we finally did get ahold of them on the radio, they did request shore assistance, so they weren’t sure where it was leading.”

McLaughlin later clarified that the vessel didn’t ask for help first, but confirmed that they wanted the help that was already on the way when asked. The Ports Department made the initial call to emergency responders.

By the time local emergency responders reached the vessel, the fire had been suppressed. Since the Noble Discoverer was not tied up at the dock, emergency responders didn’t board.

Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith said in an email those emergency responders weren’t necessary in the first place and that Shell did not call for them. He adds: “There was a backfire in one of the stacks on the Discoverer. There was a small, residual flame in the stack that was put out almost immediately by crew members. The Discoverer was never in danger and there are no injuries.”

There also haven’t been any reports of damage to the vessel. Unalaska fire chief Abner Hoage says the crew told him the engine that backfired had been acting up for a couple of days.

“It’s completely contained and under control, and they advised that they don’t need any shoreside assistance, so we’re going to go back home,” says Hoage.

The Noble Discoverer just returned from the Chukchi Sea, where it had been drilling topholes as part of Shell’s Arctic drilling program.

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