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Grounded Shell Oil-Drilling Ship Refloated

Teams will assess the vessel's condition before towing it to shelter

The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits grounded 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A Shell oil-drilling ship that ran aground near a remote Alaska island has been refloated, officials said early Monday.

Royal Dutch Shell's Kulluk was floated from the rocks late Sunday night and teams were assessing its condition, the Unified Command said.

Once they're satisfied that the vessel is seaworthy, it will be towed 30 miles to shelter in Kodiak Island's Kiliuda Bay.

The oil drilling vessel, which has no engines of its own, was being towed for maintenance when it ran aground during a powerful storm on New Year's Eve.

Officials said that so far there's no sign the hull of the Kulluk has been breached or that oil has spilled from the vessel. It is carrying more than 140,000 gallons of diesel and about 12,000 gallons of lube oil and hydraulic fluid.

The main tow line was attached from a towing vessel earlier in the day in preparation for the refloating when ocean conditions were favorable. The Unified Command said three additional tugs are on standby along with the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley and two oil spill response vessels.

"Following this initial step forward, we will continue to remain cautious while we assess the Kulluk's condition," said Martin Padilla, commander of the refloating effort. "We will not move forward to the next phase until we are confident that we can safely transport the vessel."

More than 730 people are involved in the response and recovery operation, the release said.

The Kulluk is a circular barge 266 feet in diameter with a funnel-shaped, reinforced steel hull that allows it to operate in ice. One of two Shell ships that drilled last year in the Arctic Ocean, it has a 160-foot derrick rising from its center and no propulsion system of its own.

The tow attempt is being made by the same vessel that lost the Kulluk last month while attempting to move it to Seattle. A line between the 360-foot anchor handler, the Aiviq, and the Kulluk broke Dec. 27. Four reattached lines between the Aiviq or other vessels also broke in stormy weather and went aground.

Shell has reported superficial damage above the deck and seawater within that entered through open hatches. Water has knocked out regular and emergency generators, but portable generators were put on board late last week.

RELATED ON SKYE: SKYESCAPES: 15 Stunning Photos of Alaska

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