Coast Guard tells Shell to fix Arctic barge

Washington - Shell's plans to search for oil under Arctic waters this summer - already delayed by thick ice clinging to Alaska's shores - may face another setback as the company makes Coast Guard-ordered improvements to a barge designed to carry emergency response equipment.

During evaluations of the Arctic Challenger barge, still in its final stages of construction in a Bellingham, Wash., shipyard, the Coast Guard found problems with electrical and fire suppression systems that must be fixed before the agency will issue a required certificate of inspection.

The barge, which is owned and operated by Superior Energy Services, ultimately is set to be anchored between Shell Oil Co.'s Chukchi and Beaufort Sea drilling sites, ready to move to either location in case of a spill.

John Haney, Shell's project development and construction manager, cast the Coast Guard's to-do list as "very normal construction issues that come up as we build these (vessels) and they need to be modified to meet their requirements." Shell has not yet sought a certificate of inspection for the Challenger, he added.

Shell Alaska Spokesman Curtis Smith said addressing the Coast Guard-identified problems would not delay operations.

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