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Coast Guard to Investigate Kulluk Grounding

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The U.S. Coast Guard will launch a formal marine casualty investigation into the Dec. 31 grounding of the Shell-operated Kulluk drilling rig. The investigation will examine potential causes of the incident, whether a failure of material was involved or contributed to the grounding or if evidence exists showing misconduct, inattention, negligence or willful violation of the law.

A formal marine casualty investigation is convened when a vessel casualty has considerable regional significance, may indicate vessel class problems, or is the best means to assess technical issues that have contributed to the incident, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

A Coast Guard investigating officer will lead the inquiry. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the National Transportation Safety Board will participate and support the investigation as technical advisers.

The investigation will likely take several months to complete due to the extent and depth of the inquiry, the Coast Guard said.

The Kulluk drilling rig, which grounded onshore Alaska New Year's Eve was successfully refloated, safely anchored in Kiliuda Bay, on the eastern side of Kodiak Island, at 12:15 p.m. Alaska time Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard-led Unified Command said in a statement.

The support vessels Alert, Lauren Foss and Corbin Foss are still connected to the rig, while the MV Aiviq, which towed the rig from Sitkaliadak Island, remains on standby. The Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley and tug and supply vessels Warrior, Ocean Wave, Nanuq and Perseverance also remain on the scene.

No oil sheen was detected in the area by a U.S. Coast Guard flyover.

Now that the Kulluk is in its place of refuge, the state of Alaska will require Shell maintain its ability to control the Kulluk at its location. Anchoring, assist vessels, or a combination of both, are needed to maintain the vessel's security, said Steve Russell, state on-scene coordinator for the Kulluk incident on behalf of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, at a Jan. 7 press briefing in Kodiak, Alaska.

Life rafts and other debris that remain at the grounding site will need to be collected and removed. An overflight assessment of the Ocean Bay area was planned to find indications of oil or environmental impact. Water sampling has not been conducted in the area where the grounding took place. Russell said they would look for indications of pollution or other debris that would indicate water or soil sampling should be conducted and act accordingly.

The Kulluk's temporary presence in Kiliuda Bay should not interfere with current cod, sport or subsistence fishing activity in the area. The Tanner crab fishery is scheduled to open Jan. 15.

"We would ask that all residents and users of the Kiliuda Bay area be patient while assessment and inspections of the Kulluk take place," Russell said.

The Kulluk came loose from the MV Aiviq Dec. 28, which was towing the rig to Seattle for repairs. The Coast Guard and other responders sought to regain control of the rig, but rough weather conditions hampered those efforts.

Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at


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