US Coast Guard cargo ship inspected for California oil spill

Oakland, California (AFP) – US Coast Guard investigators boarded a massive cargo ship while investigating the cause of a rupture of an offshore oil pipeline that washed crude oil off the shores of Southern California.

The Rotterdam Express train appeared to make a series of unusual moves as it installed itself at the point closest to where a pipeline break occurred, according to data compiled by the Maritime Service, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. The Coast Guard is investigating whether a ship anchor has malfunctioned and crippled a pipeline owned by Amplify Energy, the Houston-based company that operates three offshore oil rigs south of Los Angeles.

AP reviewed more than two weeks of data from marine traffic, A navigational service that tracks radio signals from transceivers that broadcast the positions of ships and large boats every few minutes.

MarineTraffic spokesperson Fotini Czeroni said in an email early Thursday that the suspicious movements that referenced the Rotterdam Express on its website may have been caused by errors related to the ship’s GPS, rather than showing the ship’s actual location. The company said it was removing the jumpers to show the ship had stayed moored.

The Rotterdam Express, a German-flagged ship about 1,000 feet (305 metres) long, is set to dock the SF-3, which is closest to where the pipeline ruptured off Huntington Beach. Hapag-Lloyd, the shipping company that operates Rotterdam Express, confirmed Thursday that investigators boarded the ship on Wednesday while it was docked in the port of Auckland. The company said it played no role in the oil spill.

“We are fully cooperating with the authorities at this moment,” said Niels Haupt, a spokesperson for Hapag-Lloyd headquarters in Hamburg, Germany.

A US official told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the Rotterdam Express has become the focus of the investigation into the leak. The official cautioned that the ship was only one thread being pursued in the investigation, which is still in its early stages.

The official said investigators are seeking to gather tracking and navigation information from the ship that could help them pinpoint its precise movements. They are also seeking preliminary interviews with at least some of the crew.

The official could not discuss the investigation publicly and spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

Officer Steve Strohmer, a Coast Guard spokesman, declined to comment on the Rotterdam Express on Wednesday, but said the agency is analyzing electrical graph systems from the Ship Traffic Service to see which ships are mooring or moving over the spill area.

Marine Traffic data reviewed by the Associated Press showed that the Rotterdam Express arrived outside the Port of Long Beach early on Sept. 22 and dropped anchor about 2,000 feet (610 meters) from the pipeline. He then showed that the ship’s position changed dramatically on three occasions in the following days, making it appear that the ship had drifted over the subsea pipeline 2,500 feet from anchorage. The ship’s location data, running through a global network called the Automated Identification System, is supposed to be accurate and reliable within a few feet.

The first report of oil in water near the pipeline was released on Friday evening, October 1st. Amplify said the pipeline was shut down early Saturday morning, but did not say how long the oil is believed to be flowing.

Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher said Tuesday that divers have determined that a 4,000-foot (1,219-meter) section of the pipeline has been dislodged 105 feet (32 meters) and bent backwards like string on the bow. Oil leaks through a thin crack.

The amount is not clear. Amplify has publicly stated that no more than 126,000 gallons (477,000 liters) were leaked but told federal investigators it could only be 29,400 gallons (111,300 liters).

The Associated Press first contacted Hapag-Lloyd Tuesday night, seeking an explanation of the ship’s movements on September 22 and 23.

On Wednesday, Niels denied that the ship had moved away from anchor from point SF-3 during that time. He said the transponder data displayed by MarineTraffic was wrong.

“We have evidence from the log, which is updated every hour, that the ship has not moved,” Haupt said. “MarineTraffic in this case is wrong and the situation is really wrong.”

The Associated Press sent an email Wednesday morning to the Joint Information Center for the Unified Command of State and Federal Agencies Responding to the Oil Spill, requesting comment on the moves made by the Rotterdam Express prior to the spill. Chief Petty Officer Lauren Jorgensen said the command was unable to discuss matters relating to an ongoing investigation.

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

According to MarineTraffic data, the ship left Long Beach on Monday for the port of Auckland. She was still moored there Thursday morning, though she was scheduled to leave on Wednesday night.

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