MSC containership dragged anchor near broken San Pedro Bay pipeline in January, say investigators

An MSC containership has been identified as a “party of interest” by investigators of the broken pipeline off the coast of southern California, which leaked oil in significant amounts at the beginning of this month.

US Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) marine casualty investigators boarded 365-metre, 13,000 teu containership MSC Danit (IMO 9404649) in the Port of Long Beach on Saturday October 16th after the ship was identified as having dragged its anchor near the source of the pipeline leak during a heavy weather event on January 25th this year.

Divers and ROV footage confirmed that a 4,000ft stretch of the more than 17-mile-long San Pedro Bay Pipeline was found to be displaced on the ocean floor by 105ft, with a 13-inch gash likely to be the source of the oil spill. Sediment build-up and marine growth around the pipeline suggested that the initial anchor-dragging incident occurred several months ago, but no earlier than October 2020, when the line had been inspected and found to be whole.

The reason January 25th was identified as a date of particular interest was because there had been a heavy weather event that morning, with conditions reported as winds of between 30 and 55 knots and swells as high as 17ft. There were more than 50 ships at anchor in the area at the time, and 24 of these raised anchor and went to sea for storm avoidance.

The USCG said in an update that “prior to the visit, US 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 25th 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 2nd 2021”.

The vessel, plus operator MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company, SA (MSC) and owner Dordellas Finance Corp have been designated as parties of interest to the marine casualty investigation. The “party in interest” designation provides the owner and operator of the vessel with the opportunity to be represented by counsel, to examine and cross-examine witnesses, and to call witnesses who are relevant to the investigation.

AIS data from MSC Danit on the morning of January 25th was reported to show the vessel repeatedly crossing the area where the pipeline sat on the sea bed.

However, it is still not known why the pipeline began leaking significantly early in October. The USCG marine casualty investigation remained ongoing and multiple pipeline scenarios and additional vessels of interest continued to be investigated.

The USCG has 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 USCG, 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).

As of October 18th the vessel was at US Long Beach anchorage, having arrived from Shanghai on October 15th.

2009-built, Panama-flagged, 153,092 gt MSC Danit is owned by Dordellas Finance Corp care of MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co of Geneva, Switzerland. ISM manager is Mediterranean Shipping Co SRL. It is entered with UK Club on behalf of Conglomerate Maritime Ltd.