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Kulluk Drilling Rig Being Towed To Shelter In Alaska

The Kulluk, the Shell oil-drilling rig that washed aground last weekend, is afloat and being towed to shelter on Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. The craft began its 30-mile trip late Sunday night. Examinations of the vessel have not found any signs of a leak.

Tow lines were secured to the Kulluk prior to its being refloated late Sunday. This morning, the Unified Command — a group that includes the Coast Guard, Shell Oil, and government officials — provided this update on the Kulluk's whereabouts:

"As of 7:30 a.m. Alaska Time [11:30 ET], the Kulluk remains in tow by the Aiviq traveling at approximately 3.5 knots (4 mph) in a northerly direction. The location of the Kulluk is approximately 9.6 nautical miles away from the planned anchored location in Kiliuda Bay."

Its escort ships are using infrared sensors to examine the water for any sign of a discharge from the vessel; so far, there have been none reported. The Coast Guard says it plans to send aircraft over the Kulluk at first light, "to look for any signs of sheen, weather permitting."

The effort to get the craft to safety now includes more than 730 people, according to the Unified Command. As it travels from its grounded position in Ocean Bay east and then north to Kiliuda Bay, the rig is being crewed by 10 members of a salvage team, along with a representative from Shell. It is also being escorted by the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley, along with several tows from Seattle, Wash.

The craft's grounding has led to calls for an inquiry from members of Congress. As the AP reported last week, "The House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition called on the Interior Department and the Coast Guard to jointly investigate the New Year's Eve grounding of the Shell drilling vessel Kulluk on a remote Gulf of Alaska island, and a previous incident connected to Arctic offshore drilling operations in 2012."

"This is the latest in a series of alarming blunders, including the near-grounding of another of Shell's Arctic drilling rigs, the 47-year-old Noble Discoverer, in Dutch Harbor and the failure of its blowout containment dome, the Arctic Challenger, in lake-like conditions," wrote the coalition of 45 legislators, all of them House Democrats, in a statement.

A spokesman for Shell Alaska tells the AP that the company supports a public investigation of the grounding of the Kulluk.

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