US & Canada

Efforts to save grounded Shell Arctic rig postponed

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Media captionFootage showed rescue teams dropping supplies onto the stranded rig last week

Attempts to rescue a Shell drill rig grounded off the Alaskan coast have been delayed because of high seas and strong winds.

The rig, named Kulluk, ran aground on Monday after drifting in stormy weather as it was being towed.

The rig is grounded on the south-east side of Sitkalidak Island.

The US Coast Guard said the rig, carrying about 143,000 gallons of diesel and about 12,000 gallons of other oil products, appears stable.

A Coast Guard plane and helicopter flew over the Kulluk on Tuesday to assess the rig and said it did not appear to be leaking.

"There is no sign of a release of any product," Coast Guard Capt Paul Mehler said.

He said a team made up of Shell, Coast Guard and local officials aimed to get salvagers aboard the Kulluk to assess it and then refloat the rig.

Endangered species

Shell has said that the design of the Kulluk - with fuel tanks isolated in the centre of the vessel and encased in heavy steel - means that a significant spill is unlikely.

However, spill response equipment was being prepared in the event of a leak in the area which is home to at least two endangered species, as well as harbour seals, salmon and sea lions.

Environmentalists have said the incident illustrates the risk of drilling for oil in a fragile region.

"Shell and its contractors are no match for Alaska's weather and sea conditions either during drilling operations or during transit," Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society told Reuters.

The rig was being moved for maintenance and upgrades when it broke away from one of its tow-lines on Monday afternoon.

Its 18-member crew had already been evacuated by the Coast Guard on Saturday because of the risk of storms.

Sean Churchfield, operations manager for Shell Alaska, could not explain why the Kulluk had been caught in the weather.

"I can't give you a specific answer, but I do not believe we would want to tow it in these sorts of conditions," he said.

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