Crews battle harsh weather trying to tow drilling unit to Alaska harbor

Story highlights

  • Royal Dutch Shell had finished drilling for year, rig was being towed to Seattle
  • Tug boat that was towing the rig lost engine power
  • On Sunday, tow lines separated and the rig moved toward an Alaskan island
  • Two tugs are now towing rig away from land, but bad weather is hampering efforts
Coast Guard crews are teaming with Royal Dutch Shell to keep one of the oil company's drilling unit from running aground amid terrible weather in Alaska, the Coast Guard said Monday.
Crews of two Shell-contracted tug boats were able Monday secure towing lines to the drilling rig Kulluk, which went adrift for 10 hours on Sunday while being shuttled to Seattle.
The Coast Guard said it planned to use helicopters to land technicians aboard the drilling rig.
"We have a brief weather window which provides the opportunity to get experts aboard the Kulluk to inspect the drilling unit and its tow set-up," said Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander of the Coast Guard 17th District. "They will provide key on-site information about towing issues or concerns and allow the Unified Command to develop contingency plans accordingly."
Forecasters predicted the wind in the area, about 19 miles from Kodiak Island off the southern Alaska coast, to exceed 60 mph on Monday night. Waves could reach as high as 28 feet, the Coast Guard said.
"Ensuring the safety of personnel and protecting the area's environment continue to be of the utmost importance," Shell said in a statement.
The Kulluk finished drilling operations in the Beaufort Sea in October and was headed to its winter home with a crew of 18 when the tug boat that was towing it lost power.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said there was no spill in that incident.
The Coast Guard helped evacuate the crew on Saturday. No one was injured, Shell said.
Two other response ships and a Coast Guard cutter are nearby as the tugs wait to steer the Kulluk toward a safe harbor, the Coast Guard said.