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Big icebreaking tug briefly visits Tacoma

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on June 11, 2012 at 3:59 pm with No Comments »
June 11, 2012 4:04 pm

A nearly new ice-breaking, anchor-handling and oil field supply vessel briefly visited Tacoma’s Blair Waterway Sunday in preparation for its departure to the Arctic.

The Aiviq is the largest ice-breaking oil field supply vessel ever built. It was delivered to Shell Oil Co. in April from the Louisiana shipyard, Edision Chouest, where it was constructed.

The vessel is 360 feet long and 80 feet wide. Its draught it 28 feet.

The ship is designed to break ice as thick as 3 feet.

While Shell isn’t saying why the vessel is in local waters, maritime authorities speculate the vessel is in Puget Sound to escort two drilling rigs now undergoing maintenance at Seattle’s Vigor Shipyard to the Arctic. Those drilling rigs, the Kulluk and the Noble Discovery, are due to depart Elliot Bay sometime before the end of June.

Shell apparently plans to use the rigs to drill offshore wells off Alaska in the Chuckchi Sea.
The oil rigs are designed with protective structures to fend of moving ice in the waters where they will be exploring for oil.

The Aiviq, which means walrus in the Inupiak language, and the drilling rigs may be shadowed on their voyage north by the Greenpeace ship Esperanza. A federal court has ordered the Esperanza to remain at least a kilometer away from the drilling rigs and half a kilometer away from Shell’s support ships.

The Esperanza is equipped with two small submersibles the organization says will be used to document the seafloor in the Arctic.

The Aiviq made the roundtrip to Commencement Bay and quickly headed back to Seattle where it was moored at the Port of Seattle’s Smith Cove pier today.

Greenpeace and other environmental groups contend that an oil spill or runaway well could spew oil for years before it could be capped because of the remoteness of the area.

The $200-million Aiviq is equipped with oil spill response equipment. The vessel is also equipped to set out anchors that will hold the drilling rigs in place while they explore for oil.

Greenpeace activists last month boarded an icebreaker Shell had leased from the Finnish government to prevent it from leaving Helsinki to head for the Arctic for the drilling season.

The ship, the Nordica, is one of two Shell-contracted icebreakers. It is heading to Alaska to join its sister ship, the Fennica, to support the Kulluk and Noble Discoverer that will head to the Arctic soon to drill five exploratory wells for Shell in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas later this summer.

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