One of two Arctic-class drillships deployed by Royal Dutch Shell for offshore drilling in the Arctic ran aground in the shallow water off Sitkalidak Island in the Gulf of Alaska after drifting in stormy weather.

On Monday, the large drill rig called Kulluk deviated from one of its tow lines and grounded on rocks along the southeast shoreline of the island, causing a huge setback to Shell’s $4.5bn offshore programme in Alaska.

Travelling north in the Gulf of Alaska along Kodiak Island, the two vessels were trying to avoid a North Pacific storm blowing at a speed of 70mph and swelling up to 35ft.

A 360-foot anchor handler called Aiviq and a tugboat Alert were towing the drillship when the incident took place.

The US Coastguard, along with Shell, Noble and Edison Chouest, evacuated all the 18-member crew aboard Kulluk, and the decision to ground the rig was made.

Shell announced that it will also work with authorities to protect the maritime environment in the vicinity of the grounded ship, alongside reviewing the sequence of events such as engine failure over Aiviq that led to the incident.

Built in 1983, Kulluk weighed approximately 28,000 gross tonnes and has undergone technical upgrades worth $292m since 2006 to get ready for Alaska offshore exploration.

After supporting Shell’s 2012 Alaska exploration programme, Kulluk was en route to winter harbour and was transporting 150,000 gallons of diesel and about 12,000 gallons of lube oil and hydraulic fluid but Shell says there is no chance of this being released.

Image: The Drill Rig Kulluk in Dutch Harbor. Photo: courtesy of Shell.