HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — Investigators imagine a 1,200-foot (366-meter) cargo ship dragging anchor in tough seas caught an underwater oil pipeline and pulled it throughout the seafloor, months earlier than a leak from the road fouled the Southern California shoreline with crude.

A staff of federal investigators making an attempt to chase down the reason for the spill boarded the Panama-registered MSC DANIT simply hours after the large ship arrived this weekend off the Port of Lengthy Seashore, the identical space the place the leak was found in early October.

Throughout a previous go to by the ship throughout a heavy storm in January, investigators imagine its anchor dragged for an unknown distance earlier than putting the 16-inch (40-centimeter) metal pipe, Coast Guard Lt. j.g. SondraKay Kneen stated Sunday.

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The influence would have knocked an inch-thick concrete casing off the pipe and pulled it greater than 100 ft (30 meters), bending however not breaking the road, Kneen stated.

Nonetheless undetermined is whether or not the influence induced the October leak, or if the road was hit by one thing else at a later date or failed on account of a preexisting downside, Kneen stated.

“We’re nonetheless a number of vessels and situations,” she stated.

The Coast Guard on Saturday designated the proprietor and operator as events of curiosity in its investigation into the spill, estimated to have launched about 25,000 gallons (94,635 liters) of crude into the water, killing birds, fish and mammals.

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The accident only a few miles off Huntington Seashore in Orange County fouled seashores and wetlands and led to short-term closures for cleanup work . Whereas not as unhealthy as initially feared, it has reignited the controversy over offshore drilling in federal waters within the Pacific, the place lots of of miles of pipelines have been put in a long time in the past.

The DANIT’s operator, MSC Mediterranean Transport Firm, is headquartered in Switzerland and has a fleet of 600 vessels and greater than 100,000 employees, in keeping with the corporate.

MSC representatives didn’t instantly reply to e mail messages looking for remark. A safety guard reached by phone on the firm’s headquarters in Geneva stated it was closed till Monday.

The vessel’s proprietor, recognized by the Coast Guard as Dordellas Finance Company, couldn’t be reached for remark.

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The DANIT arrived in Lengthy Seashore this weekend after voyaging from China, in keeping with marine visitors monitoring web sites.

The investigation into what induced the spill might result in felony expenses or civil penalties, however none have been introduced but, and Kneen stated the probe might proceed for months.

Attorneys for MSC and Dordellas could have the prospect to look at and cross-examine the federal government’s witnesses within the case and likewise to name their very own witnesses, in keeping with the Coast Guard. The investigation additionally consists of the Nationwide Transportation Security Board and different businesses.

Kneen declined to say if any injury was discovered to an anchor on the DANIT after a staff of at the least 5 investigators spent a lot of Saturday aboard the ship.

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At the very least two different vessels have been beforehand boarded by investigators, who’re analyzing logs saved by the ships’ captains, officers and engineers and voyage information recorders — equal to the so-called black field on airplanes.

In response to the brand new deal with the DANIT, the Houston-based proprietor of the broken pipeline, Amplify Vitality, thanked the Coast Guard for its continued work on the case.

Amplify representatives haven’t straight responded to questions on an hourslong delay between an alarm indicating a possible downside with the pipeline and the corporate reporting the leak to federal authorities.

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