German ship of interest in pipeline oil-spill investigation

The U.S. Coast Guard is taking a very close look at a German ship that might have been involved in the pipeline leaks that fouled southern California beaches and killed a lot of wildlife and habitat. No one knows for sure that happened but circumstances, so far, point to a container ship.

The Rotterdam Express, a 960 foot long German container ship, was boarded and inspected by Coast Guard investigators at the Port of Oakland on Wednesday. 

"They don't need probable cause. They don't need a warrant. The Coast Guard can go on vessels pretty much whenever they care to," said attorney Adam Dietz, who practices maritime law in Seattle.

Professor Steven Browne of the Cal State Cal Maritime Academy in Vallejo, is a former Naval Officer, Master, commercial ship captain. "[They] probably interviewed the captain and the crew. There are some sources of electronic data, electronic positioning logs that they may have downloaded," said Professor Browne. 

The Rotterdam Express is a ship of interest in the investigation of the Huntington Beach pipeline break. The key question: did the 30-ton anchor and chain rip into the concrete encased steel pipeline causing a 13-inch gash and the spill?

According to the Associated Press, the ship first anchored in the area on September 22, about 2,000 feet from the pipeline. But, the next day, with its anchor apparently still on the bottom, the ship moved several times, thousands of feet to the southeast, directly over the pipeline a hundred feet below. The ship's owner denies that the ship moved from its anchorage or passed over the pipeline. 

"You are continually maintaining a watch whenever you're at anchor," said Professor Browne.

24/7, the crew must make sure the anchor stays put and its chain keeps the ship inside a circular area well away from no other ships or bottom hazards, such as pipelines. Because of that, pipeline strikes or other known under water hazards, are very rare. 

"There are very few circumstances, other than a ship anchorage that might have caused this," said Browne.

So you'll know, the huge blue and white at the Port of Richmond is the Pacific Responder.

Though it can contain and clean up big oils spills anywhere, it is solely dedicated to spills in or near the Bay. That's why it's not at Huntington Beach.