A new report released by the US Coast Guard has blamed Royal Dutch Shell and its contractors for ignoring the dangers of a towing mission that left a drillship grounded off Sitkalidak Island in the Gulf of Alaska on 31 December 2012.
In 2013, a Shell official said that the mobile offshore drilling unit Kulluk broke away from its tow lines and support vessels after concluding preliminary drilling on an exploration well in the Beaufort Sea and tried to get back the drillship control.
The report, which came nearly a year after a US Coast Guard hearing into the incident, noted that the oil and gas firm believed the rig would be subject to taxation if it were to stay in Alaskan waters by 1 January 2013.
Aiviq, operated by Edison Chouest Offshorem, is said to have towed the round drilling rig, which was docked along the Aleutian Islands in Dutch Harbor prior to making its trip across the Gulf of Alaska to Washington.
The report noted that the significant factor that resulted in the grounding of the Kulluk was the inadequate assessment and management of risks associated with a complex vessel movement during the winter in the challenging operating environment of Alaska.
In its report, the US Coast Guard recommended that the US Coast Guard Commandant partner with the Towing Safety Advisory Council in order to establish a working group to draft and accept a task statement addressing the issues raised by the incident.
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The Coast Guard noted that safety and risk management need to be a priority for companies when they evaluate maritime evolutions to ensure responsible, safe and efficient operations.
Shell, which is in the process of reviewing the findings, has not restarted exploration in the region.
Image: Waves crash over the offshore drilling unit Kulluk. Photo: courtesy of Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg, US Coast Guard.