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January 7, 2013

Salvors ready ship for tow attempt

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Royal Dutch Shell PLC will try to move its grounded drill ship out of the worst of the North Pacific’s fury with a towing attempt when conditions allow.

Shell incident commander Sean Churchfield said at a press conference Saturday that naval architects have pronounced the Kulluk fit to be towed. The attempt will depend on weather, tides and readiness, he said.

If the drill ship can be pulled from the rocks off Sitkalidak Island, it will be towed 30 miles to shelter in Kodiak Island’s Kiliuda Bay.

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 ships that drilled last year in the Arctic Ocean, it has a 160-foot derrick rising from its center and no propulsion system of its own.

The tow attempt will be made by the same vessel that lost the Kulluk last month while attempting to move it to Seattle. A line between the 360-foot anchor handler, the Aiviq, and the Kulluk broke Dec. 27. Four re-attached lines between the Aiviq or other vessels also broke in stormy weather.

The attempt to rein in the drill ship was complicated by engine failure experienced by the Aiviq’s four engines. A preliminary investigation pointed to bad fuel, but that is not conclusive, Churchfield said. The Edison Chouest Offshore crew has treated fuel and changed filters.

“Thus far, we have not seen a repeat of those problems,” he said.

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