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Coast Guard: No damage found on Shell drill ship

Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - 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 in winds up to 35 mph, 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 when the Discoverer dragged anchor. 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 Arctic plan, particularly after the same vessel ran into a mooring problem in a severe storm in New Zealand waters last year. The Discoverer had been drilling an exploratory well off the South Taranaki coast.

New Zealand officials say three of eight anchor cables broke after the crew had already disconnected from the oil well when alerted to bad weather approaching. Soon after the incident, Shell officials said there were no injuries or harm to the environment or the well, and that the vessel sustained minor damage and was repaired. The incident was investigated by New Zealand officials, who said no further action was warranted.

Smith said Shell has been excited about the Arctic 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."

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Follow Rachel D'Oro on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rdoro.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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