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Oil-drilling vessel now off the rocks

A giant floating drill rig that ran aground a week ago on a remote Alaska island arrived as planned Monday in the shelter of a Kodiak Island bay after being towed about 45 miles (72 kilometres) through swells as high as 15 feet (4.5 metres), officials said.

The Royal Dutch Shell PLC vessel was lifted off rocks late Sunday and towed away from the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island, where it sat exposed to the full-on fury of Gulf of Alaska winter storms since grounding near the beach there on New Year's Eve.

The Kulluk, a circular barge with a diameter as long as nearly three basketball courts, was towed for about 12 hours to the protected waters in Kiliuda Bay, where it will undergo further inspection, including an underwater look at its hull.

"We could not be more impressed with the caliber of the response and recovery crews who were safe and meticulous in their effort to move the Kulluk offshore," Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith said by email.

The vessel will remain in the bay 43 miles (69 kilometres) southwest of the city of Kodiak until inspectors review its condition and the Coast Guard clears it to travel. Shell incident commander Sean Crutchfield said there's no timetable for departure.

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

Shell earlier reported superficial damage above the deck and seawater that entered through open hatches. Water has knocked out regular and emergency generators, but portable generators were put on board last week.

The Kulluk is 266 feet (81 metres) in diameter with a derrick in its middle and a funnel-shaped, reinforced steel hull that allows it to operate in ice. Its derrick rises 160 feet (48.7 metres). It drilled last year in the Beaufort Sea and was headed to Seattle for upgrades and maintenance when it ran into trouble.

The Canadian Press


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