Here is a short video released late Saturday by the U.S. Coast Guard, showing part of the helicopter rescue of crewmen from the drilling platform Kulluk.  The rig has been imperiled by multiple simultaneous engine failures aboard the oceangoing tug Aiviq, which was towing the rig from Dutch Harbor, Alaska to Puget Sound, for modifications, repairs and winter berthing.

Shown in the video are the Kulluk – the round vessel with a tall central tower, the Nanuq – the long, slender vessel, and the Aiviq – the vessel with the helicopter platform over its bow.  The tug Guardsman, not shown in the video, is plotted on MarineTraffic.com as being close by.  All four vessels haven’t moved much since they grouped together yesterday morning. Rather than get close to the shore and seek shelter from the ongoing major winter storm, as they had planned yesterday, they have decided to put as many miles as possible between the rig and the rocks.

Here’s from an Alaska news report:

“It’s precautionary measure. They weren’t in any immediate danger,” Mosley said. “As this continued to unfold, they just wanted to mitigate any potential issues with that crew onboard.”

Coast Guard helicopters were also able to deliver a ton of engine parts and technicians to the Aiviq, and the ship’s crew had two of its four engines up and running by Saturday morning, Shell said.

What started as 20-foot seas and 40 mph wind built to 35-foot seas and gusts to more than 50 mph, the Coast Guard said.

The weather and the combined weight of the Kulluk and Aiviq were too much for the tugboat Guardsman, which was unable to stop the vessels from drifting. By 5:30 a.m. Saturday, its towline had also broken free, the Coast Guard said. Saturday morning, the Kulluk was about 27 miles from the Trinity Islands and drifting at a rate that would have had it hitting the islands in as little as 12 hours, Mosley told the Associated Press.

“We don’t want it to go aground,” he said. “When a vessel goes aground, it’s directly played upon by the waves hitting it and having it hit something solid.”

In what Shell spokesman Curtis Smith described as “cascading assets into the theater,” another Shell-contracted ship, the Nanuq, had been sent from Seward at the first sign of trouble. It arrived Saturday morning. The Aiviq soon had all four of its engines running, and with the Nanuq’s help, was towing the Kulluk farther out to sea to the southeast late Saturday, Smith said. The plan was to avoid more bad weather and the worst-case scenario that the vessels could again drift toward land, he said.

And here is the current marine forecast for Kodiak Island waters:

Storm Warning

COASTAL WATERS FORECAST FOR THE NORTHERN GULF OF ALASKA COAST UP TO 100 NM OUT INCLUDING KODIAK ISLAND AND COOK INLET. WIND FORECASTS REFLECT THE PREDOMINANT SPEED AND DIRECTION EXPECTED. SEA FORECASTS REPRESENT AN AVERAGE OF THE HIGHEST ONE-THIRD OF THE COMBINED WIND WAVE AND SWELL HEIGHT.
Synopsis…A 952 MB LOW 175 NM S OF KODIAK MOVES TO BRISTOL BAY MIDDAY SUNDAY AT 959 MB…THEN WEAKENS AS IT TRACKS ALONG THE SOUTHWEST COAST THROUGH MON MORNING. ANOTHER PACIFIC LOW TRACKS TO 480 NM S OF KODIAK AT 964 MB MON MORNING…THEN MOVES TO 120 NM SE OF CHIGNIK AT 962 MB LATE MON NIGHT.

Today: SE wind 40 kt increasing to S 50 kt in the afternoon. Seas 21 ft building to 28 ft in the afternoon. Rain.

Tonight: S wind 45 kt diminishing to 30 kt after midnight. Seas 22 ft subsiding to 15 ft after midnight. Rain and snow.

Mon: SE wind 25 kt becoming E 45 kt in the afternoon. Seas 15 ft. Rain and snow.

Mon Night: SE wind 50 kt. Seas 26 ft.

Tue: S wind 50 kt. Seas 30 ft.

As you can see, today is rougher than yesterday (I published yesterday’s forecast in an earlier post). The seas will come down on Monday, but another storm will hit Tuesday, perhaps worse then the one they are enduring.

It appears the tugs and barge are on a course of 200 degrees, with speeds averaging about 1.8 knots, which would put them about 90 miles further from shore when Tuesday’s storm hits.

So far, nobody has been reported to have been injured or lost.  Lets hope it remains that way.

So this is how Shell Oil rings out the year during which they hoped to start extracting oil from under the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.

Update – Sunday 2:00 pm:  The so-called “Unified Command”  held a press conference in Anchorage at 1:00 pm Alaska time today.  I attended telephonically.  The Unified Command is the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Shell Alaska and Edison Chouest Offshore (owner of the drilling rig Kulluk).  They are maintaining a “Joint Information Center” during the ongoing emergency.  The Alaska DEC representative on the Joint Command, Steve Russell, described the Unified Command, saying how hard the State of AK worked, developing the “Unified command.”

I posted comments at this diary throughout the conference.  Here’s my summary:

What I got out of this press conference was:

1). Aiviq and Kulluk walked into this storm blithely.

2). At least two people have been injured.

3). USCG does not want to talk about why their cutter left the scene early Saturday.

4). Shell is backing off from earlier descriptions of the multiple simultaneous engine failures on the Aiviq being caused by fuel contamination. No mention in the presser of the USCG offloading “900 pounds” worth of new fuel injectors onto drifting Aiviq for those engines Saturday. This may be more important than is readily apparent.

5). There is nobody aboard the drill rig.

Should Tuesday’s storm part the lines again, like Friday’s did, it will be extremely dangerous to get anyone back aboard. Pumps are on automatic, but to re-hook for a tow, winches would have to be manned on the rig. No wonder they are putting as many miles as possible between them and the rocky coast of Kodiak Island eh?