In this paper we will review the loss of the Kolskaya jack-up platform and 53 crew members in the Sea of Okhotsk during New Year 2011- 2012 and point to causes of the loss. Thereafter we will review the near disaster when the Kulluk rig was being towed from Alaska to the US in January 2013.
Although both towing incidents could have led to disasters, the operator, Shell, was capable of rescuing all personnel and getting Kulluk off its grounding and back to a safe haven. The Kolskaya incident did, however, have a sad and tragic outcome.
Both incidents happened during towing in harsh weather and we will in particular discuss the characteristics of the rigs and the concerns regarding safe towing. These include:
- An evaluation of the rigs’ motion characteristics in large waves (Kulluk has particularly difficult motion characteristics in waves);
- Safe tow using at least two tugs to ensure redundancy during the tow;
- The need to move non-essential personnel off a rig during the tow;
- Management awareness of harsh Arctic conditions.
The outcome of the incidents will thereafter be discussed with an emphasis on the ability to save a rig of the Kulluk type and the loss of confidence in Russian project management in the case of Kolskaya. We will also discuss how confidence in Arctic activities could be restored. Based on the analysis, we will prepare recommendations for thorough risk analysis, in particular prior to critical tow operations. We will also highlight the responsibility of the marine staff involved in such operations and the need to strengthen their role. Of importance is the need to educate all those involved about the conditions of the physical environment. The companies’ safety programs must be updated in the case of Arctic operations with an emphasis on the need for patience and an awareness of the costs for Waiting on Weather.