Ringo HW Chiu / AP
Investigators believe a 1,200-foot freighter pulling anchor in rough seas grabbed an undersea pipeline and pulled it to the seabed, months before a line leak fouled the seabed. southern California coast with crude.
A team of federal investigators trying to investigate the cause of the spill boarded the Panama-registered MSC DANIT just hours after the massive vessel arrived this weekend off the port of Long Beach, the same area where the leak was discovered in early October.
During a previous visit to the ship during a severe storm in January, investigators believe its anchor dragged an unknown distance before hitting the 16-inch steel pipe, Guard LTJG SondraKay Kneen said on Sunday. coastal.
The impact would have knocked an inch-thick concrete casing off the pipe and pulled it over 100 feet, bending but not breaking the line, Kneen said.
It remains to be seen whether the impact caused the October leak, or whether the line was hit by something else at a later date or failed due to a pre-existing issue, Kneen said.
“We are still looking at several ships and scenarios,” she said.
The Coast Guard on Saturday named the owner and operator as interested parties in its investigation into the spill, which reportedly released about 25,000 gallons of crude into the water, killing birds, fish and mammals.
The accident a few miles off Huntington Beach in Los Angeles left beaches and wetlands dirty and led to temporary closures for clean-up work. While not as bad as initially feared, it has reignited the debate over offshore drilling in federal Pacific waters, where hundreds of miles of pipelines were installed decades ago.
DANIT’s operator, MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company, is headquartered in Switzerland and has a fleet of 600 vessels and more than 100,000 workers, according to the company.
MSC officials did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment. A security guard reached by phone at the company’s headquarters in Geneva said it was closed until Monday.
The owner of the vessel, identified by the Coast Guard as Dordellas Finance Corporation, could not be reached for comment.
DANIT arrived in Long Beach this weekend after traveling from China, according to vessel traffic monitoring websites.
Investigation into the causes of the spill could lead to criminal charges or civil penalties, but none have yet been announced, and Kneen said the investigation could continue for months.
Lawyers for MSC and Dordellas will have the opportunity to question and cross-examine government witnesses in the case and also call their own witnesses, according to the Coast Guard. The investigation also includes the National Transportation Safety Board and other agencies.
Kneen declined to say whether damage was found on a DANIT anchor after a team of at least five investigators spent much of Saturday aboard the ship.
At least two other ships have already been approached by investigators, who examine logs kept by ship’s captains, officers and engineers and voyage data recorders – the equivalent of the so-called black box in airplanes. .
In response to the new focus on DANIT, the Houston-based owner of the damaged pipeline, Amplify Energy, thanked the Coast Guard for their continued work on the case.
Representatives for Amplify did not respond directly to questions about a one-hour delay between an alarm indicating a potential problem with the pipeline and the company reporting the leak to federal authorities.