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Investigation to Probe Whether Cargo Ship Ruptured Pipeline in California Oil Spill

An AP review of MarineTraffic data showed the German-flagged ship Rotterdam Express closest to the point of the pipeline rupture.

The Coast Guard is investigating whether a massive oil spill stretching from Laguna Beach to Huntington Beach off the coast of Southern California’s Orange County may have been caused by the anchor of a cargo ship catching and rupturing an offshore pipeline, sending 126,000 gallons of heavy crude into the Pacific.

Though a sheen on the water was first spotted and reported Friday evening, the Amplify Energy pipeline was shut down Saturday morning. The Unified Command led by the Coast Guard said Wednesday that 5,544 total gallons of crude oil had been recovered and 12,860 feet of containment boom had been deployed.

More than 400 crewmembers were conducting cleanup operations with 1,500 people expected to be assigned to cleanup by the end of the week. Unified Command said shoreline from the northern edge of Huntington Beach south to the San Diego County line had been assessed and aircraft were conducting overflights of the area. The UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network reported Wednesday night 19 oiled birds had been recovered and 5 birds were found dead.

Capt. Rebecca Ore, the commanding officer at U.S. Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach, said Tuesday that divers had discovered about 4,000 feet of the pipeline had been “laterally displaced” by about 105 feet and bore a 13-inch gash.

The first report of a sheen on the water came into the USCG-led National Response Center from an anchored ship in the area, followed by another report six hours later from a federal agency that was monitoring satellite imagery and noticed a potential oil slick. Amplify Energy CEO and President Martin Willsher said the company was “not aware of any spill until 8:09 a.m. on Saturday morning.”

The Associated Press reported today that its review of MarineTraffic data showed the German-flagged ship Rotterdam Express closest to the point of the pipeline rupture, saying the 305-meter ship “made three unusual movements over two days that appear to put it over the pipeline” and took it away from its assigned anchorage point. Shipping company Hapag-Lloyd denied any involvement in the spill in a statement to AP, but an unnamed U.S. official told AP that the Rotterdam Express was one focus of the spill investigation that is expected to include navigational information from the ship and interviews with some crew members.

The Coast Guard would not comment specifically on the ship but said vessel traffic in the area was being reviewed.

Fisheries closures were in effect from Sunset Beach to San Clemente. “Our teams are continuing to focus on removing oil from the water and from the beaches, and a significant level of effort is going into that and increasing,” Ore said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Monday with the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services deployed to the incident command in Long Beach to work with the Coast Guard. Staff from California State Parks, California Volunteers, California State Lands Commission, CAL FIRE and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment were also assisting in the response.

“We’re coordinating closely on cleanup efforts and to ensure we hold the responsible parties accountable,” Newsom said Tuesday while visiting Huntington Beach and praising the unified federal, state, and local emergency response.

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a speciality in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, anti-Semitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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