facebook linkedin twitter

Ship Anchor Suspected in Pipeline Break That Fouled Beaches

October 6, 2021by Michael R. Blood, Associated Press
Ship Anchor Suspected in Pipeline Break That Fouled Beaches
Dozens of cargo vessels are seen anchored offshore, sharing space with about a half dozen oil platforms, before heading into the Los Angeles-Long Beach port, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Eugene Garcia)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An anchored cargo ship in the Pacific is not a fixed point — it’s different than parking a car. Even then, with a multi-ton anchor and brawny steel chains resting on the seabed, the massive vessels can move from shifting winds, ocean currents and tides. 

A probe is continuing into what caused an offshore pipeline break that spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil off Southern California, but one emerging possibility is that a cargo ship — inadvertently or not — dragged its anchor along the ocean floor, catching the steel, concrete-covered oil pipe and pulling it over 100 feet (30 meters) until it was pierced or cracked open the way pressure fractures an egg shell.

Federal transportation investigators said preliminary reports suggest the failure may have been “caused by an anchor that hooked the pipeline, causing a partial tear.”

“A ship at anchor will move around quite a bit as tides, winds change direction,” said Steven Browne, a professor of marine transportation at California State University Maritime Academy.


“One explanation would be they did not drop the anchor directly on the pipeline,” Browne said. “The ship moved and dragged the anchor along the bottom if it wasn’t properly set. It could have potentially snagged on the pipe and dragged it.”

Many questions remain unanswered. 

With the probe continuing, investigators have not yet said if a ship was directed by port managers to anchor in the vicinity of the pipeline break. Typically, a ship would be given specific instructions from port managers on where to drop anchor, and its position would be closely monitored.

Browne said he has never heard of a cargo ship dragging an oil pipeline, but is aware of cases in which phone cables have been lifted off the ocean floor. In such cases, ship personnel lower the anchor to free the snag, he said.


“Perhaps they didn’t realize that they were dragging anchor,” he added. In such a huge vessel, “They wouldn’t necessarily know anything was caught on the bottom.”

Ship traffic in the sister ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is directed much like air traffic controllers oversee flights coming into and leaving airports.

The Marine Exchange of Southern California, in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard, manages an area extending 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the vast coastal complex where cargo is unloaded and shipped across the country. It uses an array of technology to schedule arrivals, anchoring and departures for thousands of vessels each year. Computers monitor the speed of ships and traffic mirrors a freeway, with lanes for ships moving in different directions.

The forces of nature often come into play.

“Usually, if a ship is dragging anchor it is because of a weather event – significant wind or a strong current,” Browne said. “Because we are talking thousands of tons of steel and cargo, there is a lot of momentum involved in a ship.”

“A ship at anchor will move around quite a bit as tides, winds change direction,” he said.


Anchors on large ships can weigh 10 tons or more and are attached to hundreds of feet of steel chains. “Whatever the anchor gets fouled on will come along with the ship,” Browne said.

The ports have been beset by long backups that have vessels spread out across the horizon off the coast. Browne said he wouldn’t be surprised if ships are being anchored closer to pipelines, internet cables and other hazards “simply because there are so many ships in the area.” 

A+
a-

In The News

Health

Voting

Environment

May 18, 2022
by Dan McCue
US Army Leading by Example on Climate Change Adaptation

WASHINGTON — Though its primary mission remains warfighting, the U.S. Army is playing a leading role in an entirely different... Read More

WASHINGTON — Though its primary mission remains warfighting, the U.S. Army is playing a leading role in an entirely different battle — the nation’s response to the challenges of climate change. The scope of this mission is laid out in the Army’s Climate Change Strategy, which... Read More

Colorado, Nebraska Jostle Over Water Rights Amid Drought

OVID, Colo. (AP) — Shortly after daybreak on the high plains of northeastern Colorado, Don Schneider tinkers with seed-dispensing gear... Read More

OVID, Colo. (AP) — Shortly after daybreak on the high plains of northeastern Colorado, Don Schneider tinkers with seed-dispensing gear on a mammoth corn planter. The day’s task: Carefully sowing hundreds of acres of seed between long rows of last year’s desiccated stalks to ensure the... Read More

May 16, 2022
by Kate Michael
Countries Negotiating First Legally Binding Global Agreement to End Plastic Pollution

WASHINGTON — Countries have been negotiating limits on plastic use for years, but China’s 2018 announcement that it would stop... Read More

WASHINGTON — Countries have been negotiating limits on plastic use for years, but China’s 2018 announcement that it would stop accepting 24 kinds of plastic scrap import waste from foreign countries was undoubtedly a spark that ignited 175 countries of the United Nations to pass a... Read More

May 12, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Hydropower Offers Potential for Energy but Only With Revisions, Lawmakers Told

WASHINGTON — Hydropower offers a promising clean energy option for producing electricity but only if the current regulatory obstacles can... Read More

WASHINGTON — Hydropower offers a promising clean energy option for producing electricity but only if the current regulatory obstacles can be overcome, according to energy industry and environmental officials who testified to Congress Thursday. Last year, hydroelectricity generation produced about 260 billion kilowatt hours or 6.5%... Read More

May 12, 2022
by Dan McCue
DC Most Accessible Metro in DMV When It Comes to Charging Electric Vehicles

NEW YORK —The District of Columbia is hands down the most accessible metro in the DMV when it comes to... Read More

NEW YORK —The District of Columbia is hands down the most accessible metro in the DMV when it comes to charging your electric vehicle, a new study by the financial comparison site Forbes Advisor has found. The study, based on data provided by the U.S. Department... Read More

May 11, 2022
by Kate Michael
Food for Thought: Agro Accounts for a Third of Global Emissions

WASHINGTON — While manufacturing and industry processes are cited as responsible for emitting the most greenhouse gases, food systems also... Read More

WASHINGTON — While manufacturing and industry processes are cited as responsible for emitting the most greenhouse gases, food systems also account for a hefty portion — 31% — of global emissions, and the U.S. and China, as food superpowers, are the two largest contributors. Emissions from... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top