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DATE: January 5, 2013 5:30:00 PM AKST

Jan. 5: Press conference speaker comments

Listen to the audio of the Jan. 5 news briefing by Unified Command here.
Download the transcript from the press conference.

Shell Alaska Operations Manager Sean Churchfield
U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler III
State On-Scene Coordinator Steve Russell
Kodiak Island Borough liaison commander Duane Dvorak
Noble Drilling Vice President Tommy Travis


Good afternoon, my name is Sean Churchfield.  I am the Incident Commander and the Operations Manager for Shell Alaska. 

The Unified Command continues to bring significant resources and expertise to assist on this incident and I again want to commend all those involved for their continued dedication.

At each of our briefings, we talk about the focus of the Unified Command on the safety of personnel and the environment in extremely challenging conditions. And I will continue to emphasize this to the teams, given the recovery activities we will be initiating as well as continued weather challenges. 

As many of you may know, NOAA issued a tsunami warning shortly after midnight on January 5, 2013. There was no impact to our recovery operations and, additionally, the location of the Kulluk was not in the tsunami warning zone outlined by NOAA. Nevertheless, we remain vigilant.

At this time, the Kulluk continues to remain upright; there is no evidence of any sheen in the vicinity, nor does there appear to be any threat to the stability of the vessel; the fuel tanks have been sounded and appear intact; and, according to naval architects, the vessel is sound and fit to tow.

Operational update:

      • Currently the salvage team is aboard the vessel and preparing for the recovery operations.
      • Based on the soundings we have been able to take, we have identified one compartment or “void” filled with water. “Voids” are isolated air gaps between the inner and outer hulls on the Kulluk. They act as a buffer to protect the interior of the vessel. Not all void spaces have been sounded.
      • The salvage team continues to take soundings of the fuel tanks to confirm they remain intact. 
      • As I mentioned, the vessel has been deemed sound and fit to tow. A tow plan has been developed. And, Unified Command has reviewed and approved this plan.
      • The exact timing of a potential towing activity will depend on weather, tides and operational readiness. Once Unified Command confirms that the operation is safe and ready to move forward, the recovery operation will begin. When that happens, we will provide that information.
      • As noted in our update earlier this morning, today we have plans to connect a main tow line to the Kulluk in preparation for recovery operations of the drilling unit. However, I want to emphasize that the timing of this plan will depend heavily on weather and tidal considerations.
      • As a precaution, boom is being deployed at Kodiak Island with special focus on the salmon streams connecting to Ocean Bay, however other near-shore and offshore response equipment is staged and ready.
      • The current plan calls for the Kulluk to be towed to Kiliuda Bay, a tow of approximately 30 miles.

At Shell, we will continue to deploy the necessary resources to fully support this recovery effort.

I am pleased that we are making progress in our recovery effort but, of course, the critical work is yet to come and safety of personnel and operations continue to be the main focus.


Good afternoon. I am Captain Paul Mehler, the Coast Guard Federal On Scene Coordinator.

As the Federal On Scene Coordinator, I am confident the right people have been brought together to address this response.  My oversight and guidance ensures that Shell, and all supporting agencies and resources safely conduct response operations in accordance with the Sub-Area Contingency Plan.  It is paramount to me that the salvage and tow plans take all contingencies into consideration - ensuring this is done right. 

I want to reaffirm that the Coast Guard is committed to the responsibilities we have to the people of Alaska.  I recognize and appreciate our community that has supported our crews as we work to see this response through.  

Coast Guard assets that are currently responding include the cutter Alex Haley and its small boat; five aircraft including two HH-60, two MH-65 and one C-130, as well as nearly 150 Coast Guard members with extensive emergency response knowledge currently in Old Harbor, Kodiak, Anchorage and deployed on surface assets on the water. 

Our cutters have been providing critical on-scene weather information and command and control support.  Air assets have not only completed Search and Rescue operations, they are delivering salvage teams and equipment essential to ensure mission success. 

I have also deployed the Coast Guard Salvage Engineering Response Team to Kodiak.  This team provides the Unified Command valuable consultation on salvage engineering.

Safety of the response personnel remains our number one priority. The very nature of the recovery operations and the difficult weather conditions must be managed without compromising safety. Our timeline is still difficult to nail down, but we are committed to seeing this response through to a safe conclusion. Understand that as recovery operations develop, it may be necessary to alter our plans to address new issues or concerns.

Thank you to all of our responders, stakeholders and members of local communities for your commitment and hard work.


To recover the Kulluk, the UC are going to move it to a safe harbor where it can be inspected and evaluated.  These locations are called Potential Places of Refuge.  The Alaska Unified Plan identifies these places of refuge.

For example, the Alaska Unified Plan’s Kodiak subarea response plan identifies 10 potential places of refuge in the Southeast region of Kodiak near Sitkalidak Island.

There are seven potential places of refuge for a vessel the size of the Kulluk.

These places of refuge are carefully identified by a number of local, state and federal agencies as well as community associations and stakeholders.

Admission by the Unified Command into a Potential Place of Refuge is based predominately by the requirements of the emergency response. The Kulluk is not leaking fuels, and its presence for inspection and evaluation should not present a risk to the Kiliuda Bay area.

The UC is requiring a full response capability, while the vessel is in Kiliuda Bay, both nearshore and offshore response vessels will be in the area in case the inspections determine any environmental concerns.

The State has heard concerns regarding upcoming commercial fishing season. Specifically, the Tanner Crab Fishery is scheduled to open in the region Jan. 15.

Currently the Kulluk recovery operation does not pose an environmental threat that would preclude this fishery from opening.  Dept. of Environmental Conservation is consulting with the Dept. of Fish and Game on a regular basis to monitor any impact this operation may have on the Tanner Crab Fishery, and other commercial, subsistence and sport fisheries.


In the context of this response, my position in the Unified Command is local on-scene coordinator.

While the operational details of vessel recovery are beyond my expertise, I am here to represent the Borough community and connect the Unified Command with local stakeholders and community resources.

Throughout this response it has been important to Unified Command that they consider environmental concerns and cultural sensitivity in the recovery plan, to the greatest degree possible. Particular emphasis in the response has been to provide outreach and two-way communication with the communities of Old Harbor and Akhiok.

Plans and contingencies for the recovery have been completed and submitted to appropriate authorities for approval. The only consideration that has been elevated above local community concerns has been the safety of incident responders, some of whom reside in affected local communities.

Just as Unified Command has continued to communicate with the local community throughout the Kulluk response, local groups were also involved in development of the Kodiak Subarea Contingency Plan, which identifies potential places of refuge, this engagement included but was not limited to, Kodiak Island Borough and the City of Kodiak. The plan was also vetted through state and local groups and made available for public review prior to being approved and adopted.

I did want to clarify some comments made during our previous press conference. I had announced that a meeting would be held on Sunday at Kodiak High School, HOWEVER, this meeting has been postponed due to the Russian Christmas holiday. There is, however, a tentatively scheduled meeting in Old Harbor at noon on Monday.


I’m Tommy Travis with Noble Drilling. Since the time of the previous press briefing, Noble has continued to provide assistance to the Unified Command and to support the overall recovery effort. We are providing around the clock support – and will continue to do so. Most often our contribution has been to provide technical and equipment related information gained in our role as a contract driller.

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