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Inspections planned for drill rig pulled off rocks

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 8, 2013 at 3:44 am •  Published: January 8, 2013

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Inspectors will descend upon a remote Kodiak Island bay to investigate whether a Royal Dutch Shell LLC drilling vessel will need repairs after spending nearly a week aground.

The Kulluk, a circular barge with a diameter the length of three basketball courts, was pulled off the rocky bottom of waters near Alaska's Sitkalidak Island on Sunday. It was moved Monday about 45 nautical miles to shelter in Kiliuda Bay, about 43 miles southwest of the city of Kodiak.

Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler, the on-scene federal coordinator, was in the command center when word came that the high tide and the 360-foot towing vessel Aiviq had combined to lift the vessel and pull it off the shallow, rocky bottom.

"I won't say that I saw anyone high-fiving," Mehler said. "I'll say there was certainly a sense of relief, but recognizing now we have a lot more work to do."

Shell Oil Co. President Marvin Odum said in a statement the company undertakes significant planning and preparation to make sure such incidents don't occur.

"We're very sorry it did," he said. Shell has worked since the grounding to ensure a safe outcome, he said.

Shell used the Kulluk to drill last year in the Beaufort Sea. It used the drill ship Noble Discoverer in the Chukchi Sea. In spill response plans, the company said having two vessels on site meant one could come to the aid of the other to drill a relief well if there was a blowout.

"At this stage, it's too early to gauge any impact on our ongoing exploration plans, but with the Kulluk now safely recovered, we'll carry out a detailed assessment of the vessel to understand what those impacts might be," Odom said.

The Kulluk's next move will depend on a damage assessment, said Shell incident commander Sean Churchfield.

The vessel will remain in the bay until inspectors review its condition and the Coast Guard clears it to travel. Crutchfield said there's no timetable for departure.

"Until we have that damage assessment, we'll not be able to develop those plans," Crutchfield said.

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