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Drill Ship, Crew Moving Again In Gulf Of Alaska

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Fishermen confront oily gunk a foot thick clogging a bay in Alaska.  (credit: Natalie B. Fobes/Getty Images)

Fishermen confront oily gunk a foot thick clogging a bay in Alaska. (credit: Natalie B. Fobes/Getty Images)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A Shell drill ship in the Gulf of Alaska has stopped drifting toward the Trinity Islands and company officials hope it will be moving toward safe harbor later on Saturday.

Repair crews have restarted two of the four engines on the Aiviq, a tow vessel, and the Kulluk, which has no propulsion system, was holding steady so a second tow line could be attached, saidShell spokesman Curtis Smith.

Smith says the second line would help stabilize the situation and then the two ships would begin moving the drill ship northeasterly toward Kodiak Island.

“We’ll be moving extremely slowly on purpose,” he said.

High winds and waves in the area have prevented evacuation of the Kulluk’s crew. Shell was working closely with the Coast Guard to assess whether they should attempt to evacuate the crew again, Smith said. No one on board has been injured, he added.

The ultimate goal was to move the Kulluk about 20 miles to a safe inlet of Kodiak Island.

“Winds at this point are favorable,” Smith said. He added, however, that the winds could easily shift in another direction and that’s why the second tow ship, the Nanuq, is important to the operation.

Helicopter crews tried unsuccessfully Friday night and early Saturday morning to evacuate the crew of the Kulluk, which dependent on other vessels to move it around, said Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class David Mosley.

Winds of over 60 mph and waves of 20 to 25 feet were too much for an evacuation, Mosley said. “It’s a very dynamic situation,” he said.

The Royal Dutch Shell PLC drill ship stalled after the engines of its tow vessel Aiviq failed on Thursday while on the way from the Aleutian Islands to Seattle for winter maintenance work. Since then, the ship has drifted west from Kodiak, and was about 27 miles from the Trinity Islands early Saturday morning, Mosley said.

“We don’t want it to go aground,” he said. “When a vessel goes aground, it’s directly played upon by the waves hitting it and having it hit something solid.”

The Nanuq, Shell’s principal oil spill response vessel, was expected to reach the drill ship within hours. The plan was for Nanuq crews to attach a tow line to the Kulluk and take control as the 360-foot Aiviq continues its repairs.

A relief tug under contract with Shell, The Guardsman, left Seward and arrived Friday to try to provide more propulsion, while the Coast Guard delivered repair parts by air to the Aivik. The Aiviq crew was able to restart one engine, and with generators had enough power to maintain its position.

The Kulluk is one of two drill ships Shell operated this year in the short Arctic Ocean open water season. A round ship with a 160-foot derrick, it resembles a bowling pin in a bowl. It was designed for extended drilling in Arctic waters, and has an ice-reinforced, funnel-shape hull 266 feet in diameter. The conical shape is designed to deflect moving ice downward and break it into small pieces.

The Aiviq is owned and operated by Edison Chouest Offshore of Galliano, La.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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