Shoreline crews conduct cleanup operations on Huntington Beach, Calif., Oct. 4, 2021. In the top left, you can see ships anchored off the coast as they await to enter the San Pedro Bay Port Complex, home to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Credit: Southern California Spill Response

Coast Guard Declares San Pedro Bay Pipeline Fracture a Major Marine Casualty

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 3512
October 7, 2021

We’re getting some new information in regards to the investigation into the cause of the pipeline fracture and oil spill in San Pedro Bay off the coast of Southern California.

The Coast Guard Commandant has designated the oil spill as a Major Marine Casualty “due to the potential involvement of a vessel” and resulting damages, the Coast Guard said Thursday. A joint investigation will be led by the Coast Guard, with assistance from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Marine casualties are categorized based on their severity to include reportable marine casualties, as the lowest level of severity, followed by serious marine incidents and major marine casualties, the highest level. A Major Marine Casualty is defined as a marine casualty involving a vessel that involves the loss of six or more lives; the loss of a mechanically propelled vessel of 100 or more gross tons; property damage initially estimated as $500,000 or more; and/or serious threat, as determined by the Commandant and concurred with by the NTSB chairman, to life, property, or the environment by hazardous materials.

The “Pipeline P00547 Spill” has been deemed a Major Marine Casualty due to the potential involvement of a vessel and the resulting damages estimated in excess of $500,000.

News of the oil spill off Newport Beach and Huntington Beach broke on Saturday with the Coast Guard reporting that it was investigating reports of a 13 square mile oil just off shore.

According to information released by a Unified Command responding to the incident, divers and ROV footage confirmed that a 4,000-foot stretch of the more than 17-mile-long San Pedro Bay Pipeline was found to be displaced on the ocean floor by 105 feet, with a 13-inch gash that is believed to be the source of the oil spill that has impacted vast stretches of Southern California’s pristine beaches.

While circumstantial evidence certainly points to an anchor as being the most likely cause for dragging the 16-inch diameter crude oil pipeline, officials have not yet determined definitively what (or who) caused the pipeline to become displaced.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard reportedly boarded one suspected vessel, identified as Hapag-Lloyd’s M/V Rotterdam Express, after it arrived at the Port of Oakland, having sailed from Long Beach earlier this week. However a spokesperson for Hapag-Lloyd said the ship is no longer under investigation and is now underway to her next port of call in Mexico.

On Monday, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a Corrective Action Order to the pipeline operator, Beta Offshore, a subsidiary of Amplify Energy, disclosing that the San Pedro Bay Pipeline was ruptured at approximately 2:30 a.m. PDT on Saturday, October 2. The document said approximately 700 barrels of crude oil was estimated to have been released into San Pedro Bay, although Beta Offshore has estimated the maximum potential release to be 3,134 barrels.

The San Pedro Bay Pipeline is over 17 miles in length, beginning offshore at Platform Elly and traveling onshore to the Beta Pump Station in the City of Long Beach, California. The offshore portion of the pipeline is approximately 15 miles.

Video of the pipeline can be seen in the Coast Guard below:

The incident comes as a record number of ships have been anchored outside the San Pedro Bay Port Complex, home to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, amid record imports ahead of the holiday season. Combined, the two ports are responsible for approximately 40% of all containerized cargo entering the U.S. each year. On Friday, the day before the spill was reported, the Marine Exchange of Southern California reported 56 ships at anchor off the ports, including 41 containerships, with more in drift areas off the coast.

As a Major Marine Casualty, the NTSB is also conducting an investigation and working in coordination with the Coast Guard. Other agencies involved include PHMSA and BSEE. These four agencies are working in conjunction with California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Coast Guard investigates the causes of marine casualties and analyzes investigation data in an effort to identify measures that will promote safety, protect the environment, and to prevent future accidents. The primary purpose of a marine casualty investigation is to ascertain, as closely as possible:

  • The cause of the casualty. 
  • Whether an act of misconduct, incompetence, negligence, unskillfulness, or willful violation of the law has been committed so that appropriate remedial actions may be taken.
  • Whether there is evidence that an act subjecting the offender to a civil penalty under the laws of the United States has been committed, so that appropriate action may be undertaken to collect the penalty. 
  • Whether there is evidence that a criminal act under laws of the United States have been committed, so the matter may be referred to appropriate authorities for prosecution.
  • Whether there is need for new laws or regulations, or amendment or repeal of existing laws or regulations to prevent the recurrence of the casualty. 

If the public has any information about the incident they are requested to contact the NTSB hotline at [email protected]

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