In other developments on the ongoing drama Tuesday, Shell officially accepted responsibility for state and federal costs associated with the emergency operations and any spills that still might occur. Initially, the DEC listed the operator of the towing vessel Aiviq, Edison Chouest Offshore of Louisiana, as the responsible party, but that changed in the course of the last two days.
A Shell official, Sean Churchfield, Shell’s operations manager for Alaska, said the company would investigate what went wrong once the immediate crisis was resolved. He said that report might not be made public.
Capt. Paul Mehler, commander for the Coast Guard’s Anchorage sector, said the Coast Guard will also conduct an investigation, but he promised it would be public.
The Kulluk spent a short drilling season in the Arctic, cutting the top portion of an exploratory well before it had to be moved south for the season. After a stay in Dutch Harbor, it was readied for the tow to the Seattle area for maintenance at a shipyard. In new information reported Tuesday, Churchfield said the go-ahead for the voyage was made by Shell officials but the actual time of departure was in the hands of the captain for the Aiviq, the specially built, four-engine tow vessel.
The journey across the Gulf of Alaska was planned to take place a rowboat’s pace — about 4 knots. With the voyage expected to last up to four weeks, Churchfield acknowledged that any weather forecast available at departure would be meaningless long before the vessels reached their destination.
As it happened, a week out of Dutch, the Aiviq and Kulluk encountered a big winter storm. The towline snapped on Thursday. After a tow was reestablished Friday, the Aiviq’s engines all failed. The causes of both failures are still unresolved.