Last updated: February 20. 2013 12:57AM - 296 Views

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Spokesmen for Royal Dutch Shell PLC and the Coast Guard say naval architects have pronounced the oil company's drill ship sound and they're preparing for an attempt to pull it off rocks near a remote Alaska island.

Shell incident commander Sean Churchfield says the Kulluk will be moved as soon as we are ready and able.

The Kulluk ran aground New Year's Eve after breaking loose from its main tow vessel.

Churchfield says a tow plan has been developed and a salvage team is on board the 266-foot diameter barge but timing will depend on weather, tides and readiness.

The Coast Guard reported wind at 23 mph just before noon Saturday and 2-foot waves. The tow plan calls for 30-mile tow to shelter in Kodiak Island's Kiliuda Bay.

The Kulluk ran aground during a fierce year-end storm, and more than 600 people are working on its recovery.

The Kulluk is a circular barge 266 feet in diameter with a funnel-shaped, reinforced steel hull that allows it to operate in ice. One of two Shell ships that drilled last year in the Arctic Ocean, it has a 160-foot derrick rising from its center and no propulsion system of its own.

The vessel was being towed to Seattle last week when a line broke in heavy seas. Re-attached lines broke four more times, and it ran aground New Year's Eve on Sitkalidak Island, less than a mile from Kodiak Island.

Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation said Saturday that crews had found no sign that the vessel's hull had been breached or that oil had been spilled.

Smit Salvage, the Dutch company hired to salvage the Kulluk, referred calls to Shell.

Dan Magone, who has worked on other major groundings in Alaska, said he'd be surprised if the Kulluk can be removed any time soon.

I'd really be shocked if this thing is so lightly aground and so lightly damaged that they can just go pull this thing off right away, said Magone, president of Magone Marine, in a telephone interview from his headquarters in Dutch Harbor.

Now it's in an uncontrolled, unplanned, totally screwed-up situation, Magone said. Now you're going to go out there and fight the Gulf of Alaska, the Alaskan winter? I don't think so.

Magone's company is under contract for two other wrecks — fishing boats from which fuel has been removed — but he's waiting until spring to finish the job.

The insurance company doesn't want to pay any more money than they have to to get the wrecks out of there, so why risk our equipment and our crew and spend a thousand percent more money playing around in the wintertime when you can just wait until the weather's good and do it then? Magone said.

That's pretty normal. Of course with a big fiasco like this, there's all kinds of pressure and everything. But there's a limit to what you can do, he said.

The first salvage crew boarded the vessel Wednesday.

Shell reported superficial damage above the deck and seawater within that entered through open hatches. Water knocked out regular and emergency generators, but portable generators were put on board Friday.

If salvors want to stage equipment on the island, they will need the OK of the landowner, wildlife managers and environmental officials. There are also safety considerations for the crewmembers involved.

Magone expects the Coast Guard to require removal of fuel on board. Salvors already are fighting time and the elements.

This is the absolute worst time of year to mess with that thing over there, Magone said.

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