Originally published December 13, 2011 at 5:56 PM | Page modified December 13, 2011 at 10:14 PM

Shell to unveil massive icebreaker

The main job of the $200 million, 360-foot steel vessel will be to move anchor lines that will attach drilling rigs to the sea floor in the shallow Arctic.

McClatchy Newspapers

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LAROSE, La. — A longtime Shell contractor has nearly completed a massive, customized icebreaking ship for the company's drilling projects in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.

The icebreaker is part of a specialized fleet Shell hopes to deploy for exploration drilling next summer, if it can clear all the legal and regulatory hurdles.

Named the Aiviq, the Eskimo word for walrus, the main job of the $200 million, 360-foot steel vessel will be to move anchor lines that will attach drilling rigs to the sea floor in the shallow Arctic.

But it's also on standby in case of an oil spill; it could recover about 10,000 barrels of spilled crude.

The ship was designed to cut through ice a meter thick and likely will be able to move through thicker ice, its builder says. It can operate at minus 58 degrees.

The ship's name was submitted by an Alaska girl as part of a competition.

Edison Chouest Offshore is building the ship at its Larose shipyard, North American Shipbuilding.

The company's main Alaska project is the Aiviq. "It will be the world's largest and most powerful anchor-handling icebreaker," Gary Chouest said.

Unloaded, the ship will weigh as much as 26,000 Chevrolet Suburbans, said Gary Rook, who designed it as technical director for Edison Chouest. It's double-hulled and was designed with redundancies like dual oil-water separators.

Features include ultralow emissions — it was built to 2016 Environmental Protection Agency standards — and extra insulation so that it operates as quietly as possible.

The Aiviq can house up to 36 Shell employees and 28 Edison Chouest crew members in quarters with furnishings as nice as those on cruise ships.

Edison Chouest has hired more than a dozen Alaska workers already and sent them to Louisiana to train. The Aiviq should be complete in spring and begin its long voyage through the Panama Canal to Seattle and eventually Alaska. Rook said the ship should be ready to work for Shell by June.

Edison Chouest is a family-owned company active in the oil business, especially in the Gulf of Mexico. The firm's president, Gary Chouest, donates thousands of dollars every year to political candidates in Louisiana, Alaska and other states. He has given to the campaigns of U.S. Rep. Don Young and U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich of Alaska.

Edison Chouest and a partner are building a 70,000-square-foot aviation center in Deadhorse, on Alaska's North Slope. The company has operated one of its research icebreakers in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

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