Wave damage, flooding found on beached Shell drill ship

ANCHORAGE (REUTERS) - The Royal Dutch Shell drill ship that was tossed by high winds and grounded off an Alaska island on New Years Eve has suffered some damage from waves and flooding, but so far has not spilled any of the 155,000 gallons of fuel and other petroleum products aboard, officials managing the emergency response said.

Salvage experts were flown to the stricken Kulluk on Wednesday and Thursday, officials said at a news conference in Anchorage.

"We can confirm that the Kulluk remains upright and stable and there is no evidence of sheening in the vicinity," said Mr Sean Churchfield, Shell's Alaska operations manager and the company's emergency response coordinator.

The salvage crews found "some wave damage to the topside of the vessel" and several breached hatches that caused water damage inside, he said. Generators had also been damaged, and new generators might be needed to move the vessel.

It remains unclear how serious the damage is or how long it will take to move the ship away from its site, Mr Churchfield and other officials said.

Coast Guard Captain Paul Mehler III said that, at his request, marine-casualty investigators were on their way to Alaska from the Coast Guard's Centre of Excellence in New Orleans. Findings from the Coast Guard investigation will be made public, he said.

Residents in the area have expressed concerns about conflicts with upcoming commercial fishing seasons and traditional food-gathering activities, state and local officials said. A particular concern is the vulnerability of a nearby historical site, they said.

The Kulluk is grounded near an important cultural site for the region's native Alutiiq people, who are concerned about protecting the area's values to their heritage, state and local officials said.

Sitkalidak Island was the site of a notorious 18th century massacre in which Russian colonial forces killed hundreds of Alutiiq men, women and children.