MSC Boxship May Have Dragged Anchor Over San Pedro Pipeline

msc danit
MSC Danit at Port of Rotterdam (File image courtesy Port of Rotterdam Authority)

Published Oct 17, 2021 4:12 PM by The Maritime Executive

A U.S. Coast Guard investigative team believes that the container ship MSC Danit may have been involved in a suspected pipeline strike some eight months prior to the San Pedro Bay Pipeline spill, which released an estimated 25,000-130,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean off Orange County. 

The Coast Guard has jurisdiction over the investigation because of the possibility that a ship (or several) may have damaged the pipeline, initiating a chain of events resulting in the leak. The investigators' theory is that the line was hooked and dragged by an anchor, displacing a 4,000-foot section of pipe over a distance of about 100 feet and breaking off the line's concrete outer casing. "I'm highly confident - I'm convinced - that this was the initial event that deflected the pipeline," lead investigator Capt. Jason Neubauer said at a press conference October 8. 

According to Neubauer, evidence from an ROV inspection suggests that the anchor strike likely occurred many months - even up to a year - in the past. His team has honed in on an unusual storm that swept through the area on January 24-25, 2021, which required a lot of vessel management activity at the San Pedro Bay's Marine Exchange VTS. "We're going to comb over that and get a very detailed picture of the communications and the vessel movements during that time," Capt. Neubauer said. 

In a release Saturday, the Coast Guard said that Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach investigators determined that MSC Danit dragged anchor near the pipeline on January 25, during the previously-identified heavy weather event. With a capacity of 14,000 TEU and 165,000 dwt, the Danit (like many ships calling at LA / Long Beach) fits the Coast Guard's expectation that the anchor drag incident involved a large, deep-draft merchant vessel. 

On Saturday, when MSC Danit called at the Port of Long Beach, inspectors boarded her to look for any evidence. The U.S. Coast Guard has designated vessel operator Mediterranean Shipping Company and shipowner Dordellas Finance Corporation as "parties in interest" to the marine casualty investigation. This means that the two firms have the opportunity to retain lawyers, cross-examine witnesses and call their own witnesses for the inquiry. 

The Coast Guard emphasized that multiple damage scenarios and "additional vessels of interest" are under investigation.