Cargo ship near California pipeline made strange movements: report

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The Coast Guard is investigating whether the ship’s anchor broke the pipeline and tilted it.

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A giant cargo ship made a series of unusual movements while anchored near the Southern California oil pipeline, which broke apart and sent a swath of crude oil to beaches, according to data collected by a maritime navigation service.

The Coast Guard is investigating whether a ship’s anchorage may have dented and bent a pipeline owned by Amplify Energy, a Houston-based company that operates three offshore oil platforms south of Los Angeles.

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Associated Press reviewed more than two weeks of data from sea ​​transportation, A navigation service that tracks radio signals from transponders broadcasting the locations of ships and large boats every few minutes.

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That data shows that the Rotterdam Express, a German-flagged ship about 1,000 feet (305 m) long, was assigned to anchor SF-3, where the pipeline broke from Huntington Beach. The ship made three unusual movements in two days that appear to have put it over the pipeline.

In a statement to the AP, Hapag-Lloyd, the shipping company that operates the Rotterdam Express, denied any role in the spill.

A US official told the AP on Wednesday that the Rotterdam Express has become the focus of an investigation into the leak. The officer cautioned that only one lead is being pursued in the investigation, which is in the preliminary stage.

The official said investigators are trying to collect tracking and navigational information from the ship to help them identify its exact movements. They are also seeking preliminary interviews with at least some crew members.

Officials could not discuss the investigation publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Steve Strohmayr declined to comment on the Rotterdam Express, but said the agency was analyzing electric charting systems from its vessel traffic service to see which ships were anchored or Spills were moving in the area.

Marine traffic data shows that the Rotterdam Express arrived outside the Port of Long Beach early on 22 September and dropped anchor about 2,000 feet (610 m) from the pipeline.

The next day, at around 5 a.m., data from the ship’s locator beacon indicated that during anchorage it suddenly moved thousands of feet to the southeast, a track that would take it over a pipeline lying about 100 feet (30 m) above sea level. would have gone. ) Down. The ship appears to have engaged its engines to return to its anchorage approximately 10 minutes later.

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The ship re-routed again around midnight and for the third time shortly before 8 a.m. on 23 September, each time back to its assigned anchorage, according to its online location data. The Rotterdam Express remained in place SF-3 until Sunday, when it was moved to unload in port.

The first reports of oil in the water near the pipeline were received on Friday evening. Amplify said the pipeline was shut down on Saturday morning, but did not say how long it believes oil flows through it.

Amplify CEO Martin Wilser said Tuesday divers determined that 105 feet (32 meters) of a 4,000-foot (1,219-meter) section of pipeline had been removed, which bent back like a string at the bow. Oil leaked out through a thin crack.

The amount is not clear. Amplify has publicly stated that no more than 126,000 gallons (476,962 litres) leaked, but told federal investigators that it may have been only 29,400 gallons (111,291 litres).

The AP first contacted Hapag-Lloyd on Tuesday evening, seeking an explanation for the ship’s movements on September 22 and 23.

Nils Haupt, a spokesman for its headquarters in Hamburg, Germany, denied in an email on Wednesday that the ship had ever dropped anchor from the SF-3 location during that period. He said the transponder data displayed by Marine Traffic is incorrect.

“We have evidence from the logbook, which is updated hourly, that the ship did not move,” Haupt said. “The maritime traffic in this case is wrong and the situation is really wrong.”

Haupt said Hapag-Lloyd would cooperate with any investigation.

On Wednesday morning, the AP sent an email that included a screenshot of Rotterdam Express movements as indicated to the Unified Command Joint Information Center for state and federal agencies on MarineTraffic responding to the oil spill. Senior Chief Petty Officer Lauren Jorgensen said the command was unable to discuss matters related to the ongoing investigation.

Nicholas Ziros, a professor of marine engineering at the University of New Orleans, said it would be highly unlikely that transponder data for a ship, which works through a global network called automatic identification systems, would be several thousand feet away.

“The AIS transporters are very accurate and the whole system is also very accurate,” said Zeros after reviewing the location track for the Rotterdam Express. “I think maybe the ship went off, I guess. And under anchor, which was a big problem.”

Xiros, who has spent more than two decades teaching marine navigation and electronics to future ship captains and crew, said the only alternative explanation he could think of was that either one had to move the Rotterdam Express. The AIS system was hacked or that the ship’s transmitter somehow broke free from its mast, fell overboard and sped away before being retrieved by the crew, only to have it reopened twice.

Shiros said he could not provide a reasonable explanation as to why the ship went so far from its intended station. Records show relatively calm weather and seas during the days in question.

“There are a series of strange things and they all need to be explained,” said Zeros. “It could very well be an accident of some sort, but it is not necessarily a human error. We will have to see. But … I think the most likely explanation is that the ship with the anchor both forward and aft drifts to the side and possibly damages the pipeline.”

If a ship’s anchor becomes entangled with an underwater obstacle such as a communications cable or petroleum pipeline, the operator is required by federal law to notify the Coast Guard. According to the Coast Guard, the ships’ locations and movements are regularly monitored by both the AIS system and radar.

Zeros said he would like to review the digital logs for both location and engine operation at the Rotterdam Express if it is investigating the cause of the oil spill.

The ship left Long Beach on Monday for the Port of Oakland, where it was docked on Wednesday night, according to Marine traffic data.


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