US Coast Guard boards Hapag-Lloyd ship in growing pipeline spill investigation

The US Coast Guard (USCG) dispatched a team to Oakland yesterday to examine Hapag-Lloyd’s 4,843 teu Rotterdam Express as investigations ramp up into how a pipeline was severed off the coast of southern California over the weekend.

An investigation by the US Coast Guard revealed that a section of the pipeline was “laterally displaced” by more than 30 metres sparking speculation a ship’s anchor may have been the cause of the spill, which saw 3,000 barrels of crude flow into the sea near off Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles on Sunday.

The USCG sent a team to look at the Hapag-Lloyd ship, which had been at anchor, some 500m from the pipeline when the spill was detected. The ship then left for Oakland on Monday.

A spokesperson for Hapag-Lloyd told Splash today that the Rotterdam Express had anchored at the SF-3 anchorage as directed by San Pedro Traffic on September 21. The anchor was dropped exactly as requested and confirmed by San Pedro Traffic.

“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,” the spokesperson said, adding: “Hapag-Lloyd is cooperating with all authorities involved.”

The incredibly busy anchorages around Los Angeles and Long Beach mean the USCG has many ships to examine in its investigation with no official word yet that a dragged anchor was to blame.

Beta Operating Company, a subsidiary of Amplify Energy and the company that operates the pipeline, has been cited by federal regulators for more than 100 violations over the past 11 years, according to CNN. The company is said to have had 125 incidents of non-compliance documented by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which oversees the offshore drilling industry.

Analysts at Skytruth, a nonprofit organisation that uses satellite technology to track environmental issues, suggest that the Rotterdam Express was the closest ship to the pipeline at the time of the accident, but even so, its 500 m distance from the pipeline was likely too far to be the culprit.

“I don’t think there is enough leash basically for a vessel to be anchored and be pushed around 1,500 feet,” John Amos, president of Skytruth, told the Los Angeles Times.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Conversations with many US shipmasters that call at LA/LB harbor while they are here in Honolulu, indicate that the anchorage is currently so full, ships are drifting offshore awaiting their turn to come into the designated anchorage areas. Even those ships that are drifting are being ‘controlled’ as to where or how far offshore they are drifting. “They must remain in a box” is the comment I’ve heard by a few.

    So it begs the question, surely San Pedro traffic must be aware of submerged pipelines and controlling the vessels near them?? Why is this such a mystery? Clearly thy have a “playback” feature on their system to review and see who was in the vicinity of the pipeline. The allegation that it was moved by a dragging anchor is reasonable to assume. But why there is no vessel that can be determined to have done this is perplexing.

  2. Per the G-Captain website:
    “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.

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