Kulluk Loaded Onto Transport Vessel

Preparations are officially underway for the Kulluk drill rig’s trip to Asia.

Early Tuesday morning, three tugboats maneuvered the Shell rig out of its berth in Unalaska and onto the deck of the Xiang Rui Kou heavy lift vessel. More than a dozen residents headed down to the beach along Captains Bay Road to watch the operation.

Before crews got started, marine pilot Carter Whalen said they would have a hard time moving the Kulluk because of its domed shape.

“With three different tugs pulling on it with lines, it has a tendency to spin one way or the other. And once it starts spinning, it’s hard to stop it from spinning,” Whalen says. “It slides transversely through the water. It’s kind of a balancing act, rather than having to use a lot of power. It’s kind of a finesse.”

When reached this afternoon aboard the Kulluk, Whalen said the tow was going smoothly. Engineers fit the Kulluk into place on the deck of the Xiang Rui Kou, without the help of divers or remotely operated underwater vehicles. Once the Kulluk was properly positioned, the lift vessel emptied its ballast tanks and rose up from the water, taking the oil rig with it.

“Then there will be a four or five day process, once she’s floated, where they will secure and weld and reinforce the Kulluk into position before they cross the Pacific,” Whalen says.

The vessels are expected to leave Unalaska toward the end of the week. They’re bound for Asia, where the Kulluk will undergo repairs on damage sustained when the rig ran aground near Kodiak in January.

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