• The Rotterdam Express anchor was just a few hundred yards out at sea this week.
  • According to ship owners, they do not believe that the ship was responsible for the accident.
  • The leak caused the release of up to 144,000 gallons worth of oil.

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – The company that owns a massive cargo ship that had drawn scrutiny in the offshore pipeline rupture that fouled miles of beaches and sensitive wetlands says its ship was not involved in the environmental calamityand has been cleared by investigators for any involvement. 

Authorities say a ship’s anchor may have dragged and ripped the pipeline, which spewed up to 144,000 gallons of oil last week into the Pacific Ocean about 5 miles from shore.

Rotterdam Express is a German flagged ship that measures nearly 1,000ft in length. It was docked a few miles offshore last week as it waited to be able to access one of the crowded ports. 

Hapag-Lloyd later owned the ship. The Coast Guard boarded it in Oakland, California on Wednesday. According to The Associated Press, data from MarineTraffic suggests that the Rotterdam Express made unusual movements in two days. These moves appear to have been done over the pipeline.

Coast Guard looking into cargo ship may have snagged pipeline

Nils Haupt (Hapag-Lloyd) denied to USA TODAY in an email that the ship or its crew committed any offenses. He stated that the ship had arrived in the vicinity on Sept. 21.

Haupt explained that “the anchor was dropped precisely as requested” and had been confirmed by port officials. “It did not move until Oct. 3, then it left (for) Oakland. It remained stationary for twelve days in the exact same spot.

Haupt said the ship did not pass over the pipeline and no oil was spotted around the ship. Hapag-Lloyd has fully cooperated with authorities.

Coast Guard agents boarded Rotterdam Express, a massive container ship with German flags to investigate the incident. Last week, the Rotterdam was closest to the pipeline.

Hapag-Lloyd said Thursday that investigators boarded a ship docked at San Francisco Bay’s Port of Oakland. The Coast Guard interviewed the captain and crew and was provided access to the logbook showing the ship’s locations, according to Nils Haupt, a spokesman at Hapag-Lloyd’s headquarters in Hamburg, Germany.

The Coast Guard called Haupt to inform him that the Rotterdam was no longer under investigation for the spillage. It was now free to leave Oakland for Mexico.

The Rotterdam Express is seen at the Port of Oakland, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021 in Oakland, Calif.

The investigation continues as authorities clean up the oil. Coast Guard led the Unified Command which stated that more than 400 personnel were engaged in clean-up operations. Up to 1,500 people were expected to be sent by the end of the week, the command said in a statement. 

Unified Command published the first photographs of the pipeline, and the crack measuring 13 inches that investigators suspect is the cause of the leak. The pipeline’s video shows a very thin and hairline crack that experts believe could explain why so much oil leaked into the water without it being discovered immediately. 

Amplify Energy Corp. CEO Martyn Willsher, the head of the parent company who owns the pipeline and oil faculties, has insisted the company wasn’t aware of the oil spill or issues with the pipeline until a sheen on the water was detected at 8:09 a.m. Saturday, even though federal regulators say the company’s own systems signaled “a possible failure” in the pipeline when a “low-pressure alarm” went off at 2:30 a.m.

This still image from video taken Monday, Oct. 4, 2021 and provided by The U.S. Coast Guard shows a pipeline that spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil off the coast of Orange County, Calif. Video of the ruptured pipeline that spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil off Southern California shows a thin crack along the top of the pipe that could indicate a slow leak that initially was difficult to detect, experts said

The first emergency call came in Friday at  6:13 p.m., after a ship had noticed a sheen in the water, according to a federal report on the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services spill report website. Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration separately notified the federal response center twice that night of a possible oil spill less than 5 miles off Huntington Beach, according to updates on the California emergency services website.

The Coast Guard has said it did not investigate the initial reports of the oil spill for nearly 12 hours because it didn’t have enough corroborating evidence and was hindered by darkness and a lack of technology.

“My experience suggests this would be a darned hard leak to remotely determine quickly,” Kuprewicz said. “An opening of this type, on a 17-mile-long (27-kilometer) underwater pipe is very hard to spot by remote indications. These crack-type releases are lower rate and can go for quite a while.”

When pipes experience a catastrophic failure the breach typically is much bigger, what’s referred to in the industry as a “fish mouth” rupture because it gapes wide like the mouth of a fish, he said.

This still image from video taken Monday, Oct. 4, 2021 and provided by The U.S. Coast Guard shows a pipeline that spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil off the coast of Orange County, Calif. Video of the ruptured pipeline that spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil off Southern California shows a thin crack along the top of the pipe that could indicate a slow leak that initially was difficult to detect, experts said

The type of crack seen in the Coast Guard video is big enough to allow some oil to escape to potentially trigger the low pressure alarm, Kuprewicz said. The control room operator might have ignored the alarm, Kuprewicz said, because the pipeline was under low pressure.

Ramanan Krishnamoorti from the University of Houston is a professor of petroleum engineering. He said that the pipe could have been leaking for several days before it was discovered.

“If you have a massive crack or massive hole, you get a huge pressure drop and therefore you know you have a massive leak,” he said. “When you have a hairline crack like that, perhaps this could have been going on for two, three, four days.”

One indication of oil leaking at low rates is that concrete was left on the San Pedro Bay Line in the video. Kuprewicz stated that a major crack in a pressurized line could cause concrete to burst.

Because the line is encased in concrete — a means of keeping it weighted down on the sea floor — the Coast Guard video doesn’t reveal the condition of the half-inch-thick steel pipe underneath.

This still image from video taken Monday, Oct. 4, 2021 and provided by The U.S. Coast Guard shows a pipeline that spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil off the coast of Orange County, Calif. Video of the ruptured pipeline that spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil off Southern California shows a thin crack along the top of the pipe that could indicate a slow leak that initially was difficult to detect, experts said

Federal safety investigators removed the section of damaged pipe and…

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