Both the Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk will be taken to Asia for further inspection and repairs.
It wasn't immediately clear how this will affect the company's drilling plans in the Arctic.
“We have not made any final decision on 2013 drilling in Alaska. The Kulluk and Noble Discoverer's return to Alaska will be dictated by the scope of work identified while in dry dock and the timeline associated with that work,” Smith said.
The Noble Discoverer completed preliminary drilling in early October at one well of the Burger-A Prospect 70 miles offshore in the Chukchi Sea. It experienced a vibration problem in its propulsion system after leaving the Chukchi Sea, and an inspection in the Aleutian Islands port of Dutch Harbor was inconclusive. The vibration problem increased, Smith said at the time, as the vessel continued to Seward, a Prince William Sound port about 75 miles southeast of Anchorage.
Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler, the officer in charge of marine inspection for western Alaska, assigned inspectors to the Noble Discoverer when it reached Seward in late November. They found several major issues, which led the Coast Guard to issue a “port stay control detention” for the Liberian-flagged vessel.
After summer exploration in the Beaufort Sea, the Kulluk ran aground on New Year's Eve near Kodiak Island as it was being towed to Seattle for maintenance and broke free in a storm. It was refloated and taken to a sheltered harbor. Once weather improves, the Kulluk will be towed to Dutch Harbor, then prepared for a dry tow transport to Asia.