Container ships wait off the coast of the congested Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in Long Beach, California, U.S., October 1, 2021. REUTERS/ Alan Devall

Hapag-Lloyd Ship Reportedly Ruled Out as Suspect in California Oil Spill Investigation

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 3354
October 7, 2021

The U.S. Coast Guard inspected a containership in the Port of Oakland suspected as a potential vessel of interest in the Southern California oil spill, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday. However, the ship is currently underway to Mexico and its involvement in the incident has apparently been ruled out, according to a spokesperson for the shipping company.

The vessel in question appears to be the MV Rotterdam Express, belonging to German liner Hapag-Lloyd, which was identified as being one of the vessels anchored near the pipeline at the center of the oil spill around the time it was first reported.

The unified command responding to the incident (consisting of the Coast Guard, California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and Amplify Energy) said Tuesday that divers had confirmed 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 pipeline, officials have not confirmed this to be case.

Maritime Professor Breaks Down How a Ship Could Have Dragged a Pipeline and Caused California’s Worst Oil Spill in Decades

AIS data shows the MV Rotterdam Express as being one of the vessels anchored near the pipeline on Friday, when reports of possible oil in the water first emerged. The ship was brought into port at the Port of Long Beach on Sunday afternoon and by Tuesday, she was steaming up to the Port of Oakland. AIS data now shows Rotterdam Express has departed Oakland and is underway to Mexico’s Port of Manzanillo, so obviously the ship has not been detained.

AIS screengrab from MarineTraffic.com shows MV Rotterdam Express underway to Mexico as of 8 a.m. PDT, Oct. 7, 2021. Credit: MarineTraffic.com

The Coast Guard has not commented on the Los Angeles Times’ report. Meanwhile, Hapag-Lloyd has said its ship was in the area, but doesn’t believe it was responsible as it dropped anchor back on September 21 and did not move until after the oil spill was confirmed. An update from the company said its ship has now been ruled out.

“The Rotterdam Express was anchored at SF-3 anchorage off LAX-LGB area, as directed by San Pedro Traffic, on the 21st, at 5.54 local time. The anchor was dropped exactly as requested and confirmed by San Pedro Traffic,” Hapag-Lloyd spokesperson, Nils Haupt, said in a statement reported by The Loadstar.

“During the period in question, the vessel has not moved from anchorage and has not passed over the pipeline. During anchorage, no oil in the water has been spotted. Hapag-Lloyd is fully co-operating with all authorities involved,” Haupt said.

On Thursday, Haupt said their ship had now been ruled out. “We are no longer under investigation,” he said.

Officials say the cause of the spill remains under investigation.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is believed to be the lead agency in the investigation. On Monday (October 4), the agency issued a Corrective Action Order to Beta Offshore, a subsidiary of Amplify Energy, Corp., which operates the pipeline, indicating that the San Pedro Bay Pipeline was ruptured at approximately 2:30 a.m. PDT on Saturday (October 2). The document says approximately 700 barrels of crude oil was released into the Pacific Ocean, although Beta Offshore has estimated the maximum potential release to be 3,134 barrels. Beta Offshore reported that the pipeline was shut down at approximately 06:01 PDT.

Of course this all comes as a record number of ships are anchored outside the San Pedro Bay Port Complex, home to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach which are responsible for approximately 40% of all containerized cargo entering the U.S. each year. On Friday (October 1), the Marine Exchange of Southern California reported 56 ships at anchor off the ports, including 41 containerships.

The Port of Los Angeles said vessel arrivals have not been impacted by the oil spill, but a limited number of vessels may have needed to be cleaned.

The unified command was set to hold its next hold its next press briefing on Thursday at 2 p.m. PDT. Maybe we’ll learn more then?

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