Towing operations present a number of challenges related to acceptable weather window, number of and power rating of tugs, towing gear design and capabilities, positioning of tugs and experience of towing master and tug crews.
The past five years have seen several major accidents related to towing operations in Arctic waters. This paper will review three cases. The first concerns the total loss of the "Kolskaya" rig during transit in the Sea of Okhotsk in 2011. It resulted in the loss of life of a significant number of sailors/rig workers. During the towing of the drilling rig "Kulluk" from Alaska in late 2012, the towline broke and the rig drifted and went aground. US Coast Guard resources saved all the crew members; the hull was penetrated and partly filled with water. In the subsequent salvage operation, the hull was temporarily sealed before the rig was refloated. After the rig was inspected and found seaworthy, she was towed to shelter. Here a further assessment of the damage took place. Later she was towed to Captain's Bay (Unalaska) and loaded on a heavy lift ship for repair at an Asian shipyard. It was later decided to scrap the rig. A third example was the tow of the Norwegian fishing vessel "Kamaro" in October 2012. The vessel lost engine power south of Bear Island. During the second day of the tow the weather deteriorated and the master of the assisting Coast Guard vessel feared that the towline would break. It was decided to evacuate the crew of the fishing vessel and an emergency response helicopter was mobilised. During the first attempt to lift off crew members from the aft deck of the fishing vessel, the lifting wire got entangled and broke sending the crew members into the sea. With one of the rescue winches out of order it was decided that crew members in survival suits should to jump overboard and swim away from the vessel until they were picked up by the SAR helicopter.
The paper provides a brief review of these cases and focuses on lessons to be learned for future emergency towing operations in Arctic waters.