Investigation shows that MSC Containership dragged anchor near broken pipeline

Investigators working to identify the cause of the broken pipeline that released oil into San Pedro Bay near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach earlier this month have boarded a containership identified as a “party in interest” in the investigation.

U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) marine casualty investigators boarded the containership MSC DANIT in the Port of Long Beach on Saturday after the ship was identified as having dragged its anchor near the source of the pipeline leak during a heavy weather event back on January 25, 2021.

In the days following the spill, divers and ROV footage confirmed that 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 likely to be the source of the oil spill. Investigators said evidence, included sediment build-up and marine growth around the pipeline, suggests that the initial anchor dragging incident occurred several months to as long as one year before the oil spill was first reported on October 2.

January 25 was identified as a date of particular interested due a heavy weather event that occurred that morning. Based on information released by the Marine Exchange of Southern California VTS service following the storm, conditions were reported as 30-55 knot winds and seas as high as 17 feet recorded by a San Pedro Bay buoy. Of the more than 50 ships at anchor leading up to the storm, 24 ships raised anchor and went to sea for storm avoidance.

“Prior to the visit, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Braden Rostad, Chief of Investigations, Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach determined that the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) DANIT was involved in a January 25, 2021, anchor-dragging incident during a heavy weather event that impacted the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The anchor-dragging incident occurred in close proximity to a subsea pipeline, which was subsequently discovered to be the source of the Orange County oil spill on October 2, 2021,” the Coast Guard said in an update on Saturday.

As a result, the Coast Guard has designated MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company, S.A. (MSC), the operator of the vessel, and Dordellas Finance Corporation, the owner of the vessel, as parties in interest to the marine casualty investigation. The “party in interest” designations provide the owner and operator of the vessel the opportunity to be represented by counsel, to examine and cross-examine witnesses, and to call witnesses who are relevant to the investigation.

Satellite imagery investigators at Skytruth have been able to obtain AIS data from MSC Danit on the morning of January 25, showing the vessel “repeatedly crossed” the damaged pipeline while “at anchor.”

Why the pipeline began leaking when it did remains under investigation. The Coast Guard marine casualty investigation remains ongoing and multiple pipeline scenarios and additional vessels of interest continue to be investigated.

The Coast Guard Commandant designated the pipeline incident and oil spill as a Major Marine Casualty “due to the potential involvement of a vessel” and resulting damages of more than $500,000. A joint investigation is being led by the Coast Guard, with assistance from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

The 365-meter-long MSC Danit was once one of the largest ships in the world with a carrying capacity of over 13,000 TEUs. The ship is registered in Panama and was built in 2009.


Photo:  Sheila Fitzgerald /