A massive cargo ship was observed making abnormal movements when anchored close to an oil pipeline located in Southern California. The pipeline eventually ruptured and the resulting crude washed up on beaches, per data collected by a leading marine navigation service.
The US Coast Guard had been checking whether a ship’s anchor could have possibly cracked the pipeline which is owned by an enterprise named Amplify Energy. The latter operates three oil platforms (offshore) in Los Angeles (LA).
The Associated Press showed data collected over two weeks from MarineTraffic, a premium navigation service, which keeps a tab on radio signals that broadcast locations of ships and boats every other minute.
That data reflects that Rotterdam Express, a 305-meters-long German-flagged cargo ship, was assigned to the anchorage SF-3, closest to where the pipeline has ruptured off the Huntington Beach. The ship made abnormal movements thrice in two days that appear to have put it over the pipeline.
Amplify Energy said that it was not aware of a spill until the workers spotted an oil sheen in the water on Saturday around 8:09 am.
On Thursday, the Coast Guard estimated the spill to be at least 95,000 litres, and not beyond 500,000 litres.
The Coast Guard added that the incident investigations are progressing. It seems to be a “major marine casualty” owing to the probable involvement of a vessel and damages that may be exceeding $500,000. It said they will determine if civil penalties, criminal charges, or new regulations or laws are required.
The Coast Guard has also interviewed the crew members as well as the captain and was allowed to access the logbook to check the ship’s locations.
The logbook that is updated hourly showed that the vessel did not move, proving MarineTraffic’s suggestions to be misleading and showing the wrong position.
Later on, the Coast Guard informed the company that Rotterdam was no longer being scrutinized for the incident. The ship had been cleared to depart from Oakland and headed for Mexico.
Investigators informed that the leak occurred about 8 kilometers offshore at a depth of about 30 meters.
Martyn Willsher, Amplify’s CEO, said that a 1,219-meter section of the pipeline has been dislodged 32 meters, bent back similar to a string on a bow.
Nikolas Xiros, a professor of marine engineering at the University of New Orleans, said that an alternative explanation that he could consider was that a hacker could have hacked the AIS system and made it seem like the Rotterdam Express moved. He also explained the ship’s transmitter could have unfortunately unfastened from the mast. It may have, somehow, fallen in the water, and drifted before being retrieved by the crew.