The Kulluk, a circular drill barge without its own propulsion, ran aground New Year’s Eve in a powerful storm. It was being towed to Seattle for maintenance before it ran aground, but the lines that connected it to the towing ship broke.
That same ship, the 360-foot Aiviq, pulled the Kulluk off the rocky bottom near Sitkalidak Island at 10:10 p.m. Sunday and started a slow tow toward Kiliuda Bay.
High winds and sea swells threatened to slow the barge’s 30-mile journey to the bay. But the ship made steady progress, moving about 4 mph. By 9 a.m., the vessels were about four miles from where crews planned to anchor up.
The massive effort to move and salvage the ship involves more than 730 people, according to the Unified Command, which includes the Coast Guard, Shell and contractors involved in the tow and salvage operation. Eleven people are aboard the ship — a salvage crew of 10 people and one Shell representative.
The Kulluk is carrying more than 140,000 gallons of diesel and about 12,000 gallons of lube oil and hydraulic fluid.
A tug trailing the drill vessel used infrared equipment to watch for oil sheens and reported no petroleum discharge.
The salvage crew planned to examine the vessel again in the protected waters.
Shell 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 last week.
“There will be some extensive examination of the rig,” said Ignacio Gonzalez, a spokesman at the Kulluk incident command center.
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 vessels that drilled last year in the Arctic Ocean, it has a 160-foot derrick rising from its center.
The Kulluk on Dec. 27 was being towed to Seattle for upgrades and maintenance when it ran into trouble during a strong Gulf of Alaska storm.
Its tow line to the Aiviq parted, and a day later, all four engines quit on the Aiviq, possibly due to contaminated fuel.
Four re-attached lines between the Aiviq or other vessels also broke in stormy weather.