Gorilla stuck, then free on way out

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 13, 2001

The Motor Vessel Stella Rowan, right, works to free the Super Gorilla VII from the mud near LeTourneau Landing Friday morning. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[08/13/01] It took a little while Friday morning to jack one of the legs of Gorilla VII out of the mud, but the task was completed in time to move the huge oil drilling rig a few more feet into the Mississippi River.

When the 40-million-pound rig was walked into the Mississippi River July 13 from the spot where it was built at LeTourneau Inc., the river was just higher than 18.5 feet on the Vicksburg gauge. By Aug. 1, the river had dropped to about 10.5 feet. It was back up to 18.1 Friday.

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The river movement created just the opportunity for which LeTourneau Vice President Donald Cross was looking.

“We had to get it out while the river was at its peak,” Cross said.

And, while LeTourneau’s workers were moving the latest of the Super Gorilla drill rigs farther from the river bank, the U.S. Coast Guard inspected the rig for the final time.

“Federal law requires all U.S. flag commercial vessels to be inspected during construction,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Simmerman, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Baton Rouge.

He also said the vessels must undergo periodic inspections, even if they are working far from the United States.

“It just makes sense to bring someone from an office somewhere to the vessel rather than having the vessel come in,” he said, pointing out the Coast Guard has inspection offices in several foreign countries.

While Simmerman was taking care of his part of the day’s work, LeTourneau workers were jacking one of the rear legs of Gorilla VII from where it had sunk too deep into the river bottom’s mud. Once it was free, the Motor Vessel Stella Rowan, an offshore supply vessel, gently tugged and pivoted the rig around another leg. Cross said that move was necessary so the rig would be able to leave Vicksburg Wednesday morning.

There is a window of opportunity between 12 feet and 30 feet on the Vicksburg river gauge during which Super Gorillas can be moved downriver and have enough water to float and still be able to get under the bridges at Natchez and Baton Rouge.

River forecasters predict the Mississippi will be at 12.7 feet at Vicksburg by Wednesday. Maybe not ideal, Cross said, but there will still be enough water.

Once clear of the Mississippi River, the Gorilla VII will be towed to Sabine Pass, Texas, where additional leg sections will be added. After that, it’s off to work in the oceans for a usable life span of 30 years or more.