At about 10:10 p.m. last night, the Royal Dutch Shell drilling vessel Kulluk was refloated from Sitkalidak Island, where it has sat for a week. The rig went aground after breaking its tow in a severe storm and washed ashore on New Year’s Eve.
According to the unified command, the Kulluk is attached to the tug Aiviq, with three additional tugs standing by, along with the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley and two oil spill response vessels.
The Kulluk is traveling at 4 knots (4.7 mph) to Kiliuda Bay, about 30 miles north, where it will be anchored up and undergo a complete inspection. Incident commander Martin Padilla says the unified command remains cautious as they assess the rig’s condition.
A Coast Guard overflight of the rig is scheduled at first light, weather permitting.
The unified command announced Saturday afternoon that they had selected Kiliuda Bay as a “place of refuge” to bring the rig if they could dislodge it from a beach on Sitkalidak Island.
Duane Dvorak, Kodiak Island Borough’s designee to the Unified Command, says the “Potential Places of Refuge” plan for Kodiak Island was well-vetted before being adopted in 2006.
“Local groups were also involved in the development of the Kodiak Subarea Contingency Plan, which identifies potential places of refuge. This engagement included, but not limited to, the Kodiak Island Borough and the city of Kodiak. The plan was also vetted through state and local groups and made available for public review prior to being approved and adopted,” Dvorak said.
Once the Kulluk is in Kiliuda Bay, it will have plenty of company if it’s still there a week from now. The 2013 tanner crab season begins in the bay on January 15th. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Steven Russell says there should be no negative impact on the fishery.
“At this point, the Kulluk recovery operations do not pose an environmental threat that would preclude the opening of this fishery. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is working closely with the Department of Fish and Game to monitor any impact that this operation may have on the tanner crab fishery (and) any other fishery, including commercial, subsistence and sport,” Russell said.
There are a number of people aboard the Kulluk as it’s towed, and measurements of the rig’s fuel tanks show they are intact and not leaking any diesel.