HUNTINGTON BEACH (AP / CBSLA) – A huge freighter made a series of unusual movements while anchored at the nearest spot of an oil pipeline off the coast of Orange County that ruptured and sent tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil washed up on beaches, according to data collected by a shipping service.
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The pipeline leak, which was reported Saturday morning off Huntington Beach, could have spilled up to 144,000 gallons of oil into ocean waters. The spill occurred in federal waters at the Elly Shelf, approximately 4 1/2 miles offshore. The platform and pipeline are owned by Amplify Energy, based in Houston.
Federal officials confirmed on Tuesday that a section of the Amplify Energy pipeline was damaged and moved more than 100 feet along the ocean floor, indicating that the anchor of a vessel may have caused the spill.
The Coast Guard is investigating whether the anchor of the Rotterdam Express, a German-flagged ship, could have caught on and bent the pipeline. Amplify Energy operates three offshore oil platforms off the OC coast.
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The nearly 18-mile pipeline connects Amplify Energy’s offshore drilling rigs to a pumping station in Long Beach.
The Associated Press has examined more than two weeks of data from MarineTraffic, a navigation service that tracks radio signals from transponders that broadcast the locations of ships and large boats every few minutes.
These data show that the Rotterdam Express, nearly 1,000 feet long, was assigned to the SF-3 anchor, the closest to where the pipeline ruptured. The vessel made three unusual movements over two days that appear to put it above the pipeline.
In a statement to AP, Hapag-Lloyd, the shipping company that operates the Rotterdam Express, denied any role in the oil spill.
A US official told AP on Wednesday that the Rotterdam Express had become the focus of the spill investigation. The official warned the vessel was just an ongoing lead in the investigation, which is still in its early stages.
According to data from MarineTraffic, the ship left Long Beach on Monday for the Port of Oakland, where it was moored at a dock Wednesday evening.
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Investigators are looking to collect tracking and navigational information from the vessel that could help them identify its exact movements, the official said. They are also looking for preliminary interviews with at least some crew members.
The official was unable to publicly discuss the investigation and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Data from MarineTraffic shows that the Rotterdam Express arrived outside the port of Long Beach in early September 22 and anchored about 2,000 feet from the pipeline.
The next day, at around 5 p.m., data from the vessel’s locator beacon indicated that, while anchored, it had suddenly moved thousands of feet to the southeast, a track that would have brought it to the over the pipeline lying on the seabed approximately 100 feet below. The vessel then appears to have engaged its engines to regain its anchorage approximately 10 minutes later.
The vessel then moved again around midnight and a third time shortly before 8 a.m. on September 23, each time returning to its assigned anchorage, according to its online whereabouts data. The Rotterdam Express remained at point SF-3 until Sunday, when it entered the port to unload.
The first report of oil in the water near the pipeline was made on Friday evening. A document obtained by CBS2 from the US Department of Transportation indicates that a low pressure alarm went off on the Elly at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday. However, control room workers at Beta Offshore, a subsidiary of Amplify, did not shut down the pipeline until 6:01 a.m. on Saturday, about 3.5 hours later.
Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher said Tuesday that divers had determined that a 4,000-foot section of the pipeline had been dislodged 105 feet, bent back like a bowstring. Oil escaped through a thin crack.
The amount is not clear. Amplify has publicly stated that there is no more than 126,000 gallons of leakage, but told federal investigators it may only be 29,400 gallons.
Nils Haupt, spokesperson for Hapag-Lloyd at its headquarters in Hamburg, Germany, denied in an email on Wednesday that the ship never left the anchor at point SF-3 during this period. He stated that the transponder data displayed by MarineTraffic is incorrect.
“We have proof from the logbook, which is updated hourly, that the vessel has not moved,” Haupt said. “MarineTraffic in this case is false and the position is indeed incorrect.”
Nikolas Xiros, professor of marine engineering at the University of New Orleans, said it would be highly unlikely for data from a ship’s transponder, which operates through a global network called an automatic identification system, to be lagged. of several thousand feet.
âAIS carriers are very precise and the whole system is also very precise,â Xiros said after examining the Rotterdam Express locator track. âI think the ship has probably moved, that’s what I think. And with the anchor down, which was a big deal.
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