Did A Ship Anchor Hit The Pipeline In California?

As we all know there are dozens of ships anchored off Los Angeles waitting to discharge, and now we have an oil spill in the region caused by a punctured pipeline.

Here’s our article on the subject:

Sal Mercogliano did a great video explaining hwo ships anchor and such:

What do you guys think?



Another possibility is she hit the pipeline while maneuvering to pick up tthe anchor.

Could it be possible they started steaming towards the port before the anchor was fully aweigh?

Is it possible the anchor watch said the anchor was aweigh before it was?

Is it possible they left the anchor kissing the bottom to move the pivot point to the bow and improve maneuverability getting out of the anchorage?

Is it possible that the anchor was temporarily hung-off the bottom (so it could be released in an emergency) and the brake failed?

Pure speculation but I haven’t seen the AIS data when the mostly likely canidate (M/V Rotterdam Express) picks up anchor.

Was that area a designated anchorage? I’m guessing that it is not. I remember seeing signs along various shorelines and beaches saying DO NOT ANCHOR, Submerged Pipeline (or cable).
There are now reports that the pipeline has a 13" tear and is bowed like a bowstring. Seems kinda obvious what happened given the large amount of ships waiting to get into port.


Questions 1,2,4 are all possible. IMHO Question 3 is unlikely.

Assuming it was a ship’s anchor strike, also consider ECDIS layering. There is quite a bit of a/v “noise” associated with electronic charts.

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CNN seems to be calling it a sure thing now.

AP is breaking that the Rotterdam Express is the ship of interest to the USCG. AIS data allegedly shows it possibly dragging anchor over the pipeline.

A more likely explanation could be that the 41 year old pipeline had not been laid in a straight line as indicated on the charts. (Not uncommon at that time)

Had inspection and maintenance routines been carried out with sufficient frequency and accuracy??

This sounds like this gentleman thinks they veered enough chain to damage this pipeline. The more likely explanation is that it dragged its anchor onto the pipeline and then picked it up, repositioned itself, and dropped anchor again in its assigned anchorage. All of which should be documented in the logbook if it happened. I have to question what an anchorage is doing that close to a pipeline at all.

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1,2 and 4 - When recovering the anchor it’s standard practice not to move the ship until the anchor is clear of the water to check that the anchor is not fouled on something.

3 - Seems doubtful, once the anchor is clear of the water even if it’s tight ahead there will be room astern as the ship would have moved ahead recovering the chain. Easiest way to spin around in this situation; give a dead slow astern bell till the ship has some sternway on then goose it ahead with an ahead bell and full rudder, Ship will spin right around, and/or use the bow thruster.

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The R.E. was at anchor at Anchorage SF3 for several days and moved from there to LB port without crossing the pipeline. IFAIK Anchorage SF3 is to the North of the pipeline (??) so that make sense.

It appears that the USCG has come to the same conclusion:

Maybe time to admit that the cause is NOT a foreign ship dragging it’s anchor across the line and start looking at the more likely reason, rusty old pipeline that developed a leak. Not unthinkable, or unusual, is it?

PS> When was the last time a Smart Pig inspection was carried out? Has the report been made available to investigators?

In the book “Looking for a Ship” John McPhee says something along the lines of about half the work done by the officers is record keeping in preparation for future lawsuits. Looks like maybe records on board kept the Rotterdam out of trouble. LIkely however the electronic records would be more valuable then logs kept on paper in this case.

Local story with some details about the video evidence.

A Coast Guard video released Thursday appears to show a trench in the seafloor leading to a bend in the submerged line, but experts offered varied opinions of the significance of the brief, grainy shots. An earlier video revealed a 13-inch (33-centimeter) rupture in the line, but the pipe showed no evidence of damage that they said would be expected from a collision with a multi-ton anchor from cargo ships that routinely move through the area off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

If this was done by a ship’s anchor it should be easy to prove by running a Side Scan Sonar in the area where the leak was detected (not which ship)
Anchor scars are usually easily seen on SS surveys.

If the pipeline had been displaced in the process, there would also be clear indication of that, with the anchor scar in the middle of the “bow”.

PS> No American flag ship around that could be blamed??


Either a side-scan or a ROV, either of which are abundant in southern California. Even hobbyist grade units could provide very high resolution graphics of the pipe and the suspected trench.

At only 30m depth they could tie a string to a GoPro and get excellent photos.


Here is a video that show a short glimpse of the pipeline and the bottom around:

Just rewind the ECDIS 3 or 4 days and hit play and there you go!

You would think that the USCG investigators that visited the R.E. did just that.
Otherwise Marine Traffic would probably be visited by many to do the same.
VTS will also have records that can be checked.

There are no “secrets” or “privacy” any more.

Looks like it was jitter in the AIS / GPS signal from a AIS service that tagged the Rotterdam in the first place.

From Newsweek:

The cargo ship, named the Rotterdam Express, was anchored closest to where the pipeline ruptured and, according to data from a marine navigation service, appeared to have made a string of unusual movements leading up to the break.