“Clearly we aren’t there yet,” she said.
Coast Guard officials have said they have found no evidence of leakage from the Kulluk during initial examinations in Kiliuda Bay, where the vessel was towed to safety this week, but preparations were underway to examine the hull with a remotely operated submarine.
Shell officials are hoping to tow the vessel to Seattle for repairs, though it is not known whether they could be finished in time for the summer drilling season, which commences in July.
A continuing question of why the Kulluk was being towed toward Seattle in such bad weather will probably form part of the Coast Guard inquiry.
Shell officials have said the weather forecast was “appropriate” when the vessel left Dutch Harbor. But Alaskan newspapers have questioned whether a potential tax liability could have influenced the decision to depart: The company theoretically could have been liable for millions of dollars in oil equipment property tax, local news reports suggested, had the Kulluk still been moored in Dutch Harbor on Jan. 1.
Smith denied that the potential tax liability played any role in the timing of the oil barge’s sailing.
“The taxes were a consideration, because we were aware of them, but they were in no way a driver for our departure,” he said. “A safe operating [weather] window and the need to perform maintenance on the Kulluk informed our decision to move it to Seattle.”