Coast Guard says no damage found on Shell drill ship

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — No damage has been found on a Shell Oil drilling ship that lost its mooring in Alaska’s Dutch Harbor, the Coast Guard said Tuesday.

Coast Guard Lt. Jim Fothergill said video captured by divers shows no damage or signs of grounding by the 571-foot Noble Discoverer, which slipped its anchorage Saturday, drifting extremely close to shore. Two Coast Guard investigators were aboard the ship Monday during the divers’ inspection and witnessed the live video feed, Fothergill said.

“We are still reviewing the video. However, what I can tell you is that there is no physical evidence that suggests that they hit bottom,” he said. “We believe if they did ground, it was a very soft grounding.”

Earlier footage taken by a remotely operated vehicle also shows no damage, Fothergill said. There also have been no reports of injury or pollution.

The Discoverer, owned by Noble Corp., is among a Shell fleet to soon head north for planned exploratory drilling in the Arctic waters of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.
The ship is now anchored at least 750 yards from land, Fothergill said. It was towed offshore after the mishap.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said about 120 crew members were on board during the slippage. They remain on board gearing up to begin the journey to the Arctic in late July. Smith said the trip will take four or five days, and the company aims to begin drilling in early August.

Drilling in Arctic waters is bitterly opposed by environmental groups and some Alaska Natives. Their lawsuits and permit appeals have prevented Shell Oil Co. from drilling in the Chukchi Sea, where the subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell PLC spent $2.1 billion on leases in 2008.

Shell also holds older leases in the Beaufort Sea and hopes to drill exploratory wells this summer in both locations. Environmentalists say the anchorage problem is yet another reason to question Shell’s plans.

Smith said the company has been excited about the project for a long time. The Discoverer incident temporarily damped that excitement, he said.

“Anytime something like this happens operationally, you have to take it extremely seriously,” he said. “Our goal is always flawless execution, and when that doesn’t happen — either in port or offshore — it’s unacceptable.”