Investigators believe a 1,200-foot (366-meter) cargo ship that pulled anchor in rough seas grabbed an underwater oil pipeline and dragged it across the ocean, months before A leak from the line filled the coast of Southern California with crude oil.
A team of federal investigators was trying to chase down the cause aboard Panama-registered MSC DANIT, just hours after the massive ship arrived from the Port of Long Beach this weekend, in the same area where the leak The discovery was made in early October.
During the ship’s prior voyage during a heavy storm in January, investigators believe its anchor was dragged an undisclosed distance before hitting a 16-inch (40-centimeter) steel pipe, Coast Guard Lieutenant JG Sondrake Nein said on Sunday.
The impact ripped off an inch-thick concrete casing from the pipe and dragged it more than 100 feet (30 m), bending but not breaking the line, Kane said.
Still undetermined is whether the impact caused the October leak, or if the line collided with something else at a later date or failed because of a pre-existing problem, Kane said.
“We are still looking at many ships and scenarios,” she said.
The Coast Guard on Saturday named the owner and operator as parties of interest in an investigation into the spill, which is estimated to have released about 25,000 gallons (94,635 liters) of crude oil into the water, which killed birds, fish and mammals.
The accident damaged beaches and wetlands just a few miles from Huntington Beach in Los Angeles, and temporarily closed for clean-up work. Although not as bad as initially feared, it has rekindled the debate over offshore drilling in federal waters in the Pacific, where hundreds of miles of pipeline were installed decades ago.
According to the company, DANIT’s operator, MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company, is headquartered in Switzerland and has a fleet of 600 ships and over 100,000 workers.
MSC representatives did not immediately respond to email messages seeking comment. A security guard who arrived by telephone at the company’s headquarters in Geneva said it was closed until Monday.
The ship’s owner, identified by the Coast Guard as Dordelas Finance Corporation, could not be reached for comment.
According to maritime traffic monitoring websites, DANIT arrived at Long Beach later this week after traveling from China.
An investigation into the cause of the spill could lead to criminal charges or civil penalties, but none have yet been announced, and Kane said the investigation could continue for months.
According to the Coast Guard, lawyers for MSC and the Dordalles will have a chance to examine and cross-examine government witnesses in the case and call their own witnesses. The National Transportation Safety Board and other agencies are also involved in the investigation.
Kane declined to say when a team of at least five investigators found any damage to an anchor on Denit after spending most of Saturday on the ship.
At least two other ships were previously boarded by investigators, who are examining logs kept by the ships’ captains, officers and engineers, and voyage data recorders – the equivalent of so-called black boxes on airplanes.
In response to the new focus on DANIT, Amplify Energy, the Houston-based owner of the damaged pipeline, thanked the Coast Guard for its continued work on the matter.
Amplify representatives did not respond to direct questions about the delay of hours between the alarm indicating a potential problem with the pipeline and the company reporting the leak to federal officials.
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