The Kulluk Tow Incident
POSTED February, 2013
Story by Ensign Leigh Van Lear, Pacific Strike Team
Any time, any place, any hazard. It’s not just a motto, but a reality for the lives of all responders of the National Strike Force. At any time, usually the most inconvenient of times, members of the Pacific Strike Team are called to duty to aid in emergency response. While most people were enjoying the last few days of the holiday season at home with their families and friends, members of the PST were called to deploy to Anchorage, Alaska, where they would assist Coast Guard Sector Anchorage in a response to the Kulluk Tow Incident.
The mobile offshore drilling unit Kulluk is a conical oil drilling unit that is utilized in Shell’s exploratory arctic drilling program. On Dec. 21, 2012, the Motor Vessel Aiviq took the Kulluk under tow and departed Dutch Harbor, Alaska, bound for Seattle, for routine winter maintenance. On Dec. 27, 2012, the Aiviq experienced a series of malfunctions including a parting of the tow connection, loss of power, and several failed attempts to establish an emergency tow line. The Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley, Tug Alert and Motor Vessel Nanuq were immediately deployed to assist, but on Dec. 31, 2012, a series of malfunctions coupled with strong, near hurricane force winds, and 50-foot seas caused the Kulluk to ground on the rocky shore of the northern tip of Ocean Bay, located southeast of Sitkalidak Island, Alaska.
On Dec. 28, 2012, a Unified Command was established with representation from the U.S. Coast Guard, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Shell, Kodiak Island Borough and Noble Drilling in order to safely and effectively respond to the incident. An Incident Command Post was established in Anchorage, as well as in Kodiak, and quickly grew to include over 700 responders. The Unified Command’s missions were to safely evacuate the 18 person crew aboard the Kulluk, conduct primary damage assessments of the drilling unit and successfully tow the Kulluk to a pre-established place of refuge where it would undergo further damage assessments to determine the vessel’s seaworthiness for the long distance transit to its permanent anchorage of Seattle.
Members of the PST deployed on Dec. 29, 2012, and aided in the response efforts by filling various Incident Command System positions in the command posts based on their experience and certifications.
“This was one of the most logistically challenging cases I have been on. The severe weather, lack of local resources and remoteness of the response were significant challenges to overcome. Even the short, five hours of day light in January became an important hindrance and safety issue,” said Lt. Bryan Naranjo, a response officer with the PST and Deputy Incident Commander. “We learned a lot of lessons on the Kulluk response that will be incorporated into future NSF training and readiness preparation. These lessons learned will help us to be better prepared to respond to any future incidents in Alaska.”
There were approximately 143,000 gallons of diesel and 12,000 gallons of other petroleum products aboard the Kulluk at the time of the grounding. After extensive evaluation and over flight, it was determined that no visible sheen or sign of fluids was in the water surrounding the drilling unit. All fuel tanks were inspected by a damage assessment team and were determined to be intact.
Members that deployed from the PST were instrumental in the completion of several pertinent operational plans, as well as assisting with the cost documentation and resource tracking for Coast Guard resources. Several members acted as liaisons with nearby Alaska-based Coast Guard units’ inquiries regarding the response efforts. In the end, the Unified Command was able to successfully refloat the Kulluk, and tow it safely to a place of refuge for further structural and mechanical assessments.
“The World’s Best Responders: Any Time, Any Place, Any Hazard.”