Drill ship, tows still battle Gulf of Alaska storm

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 30, 2012 at 7:44 pm •  Published: December 30, 2012
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The crews of towing vessels attached to a Shell drill ship faced a fierce storm Sunday in the Gulf of Alaska, responders said.

The crews of the Aiviq and the Nanuq were stationed with the Royal Dutch Shell PLC drill rig Kulluk about 20 miles from Alaska's Kodiak Island, were joined by the tugboat Alert in very rough seas, the Coast Guard said. The Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley was en route for a second time and expected to arrive late Sunday.

Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler III said crews spent Saturday night dealing with the storm that brought winds between 55 and 70 mph.

"It was close to a hurricane," Mehler told reporters.

Petty Officer First Class David Mosley said winds Sunday ranged between 35 mph and 50 mph. Seas were as high as 22 feet.

The goal is to tow the Kulluk to a safe harbor. Responders said they were looking at several options.

The Aiviq was using only two of its four engines at a time, with two on standby. The Aiviq's engines failed Friday, and one of them was restarted the same day. The others were back to running Saturday after parts were delivered by Coast Guard helicopter.

All 18 crew members on the Kulluk were safely evacuated Saturday from the drill ship, which has no propulsion system of its own and had been drifting toward the Trinity Islands.

Helicopter crews tried unsuccessfully Friday night and early Saturday to evacuate the crew, but succeeded in their third attempt, after winds had died down from a high of 60 mph.

Two workers on board the Aiviq sustained minor injuries, said Sean Churchfield, Shell's Alaska operations manager. He didn't have details, but said he understood the crew members were back at work.