- The Rotterdam Express was anchored a few miles out at sea last week.
- The ship’s owners say they don’t believe the ship was involved in the disaster.
- As much as 144,000 gallons of oil escaped before the leak was halted.
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – The company that owns a massive cargo ship drawing scrutiny in the offshore pipeline rupture that fouled miles of beaches and sensitive wetlands says its ship was not involved in the environmental calamity.
Authorities say a ship’s anchor may have dragged and ripped the pipeline, which spewed up to 144,000 gallons of oil last week into the Pacific Ocean about 5 miles from shore.
The Rotterdam Express, a German-flagged ship nearly 1,000 feet long, was anchored a few miles out at sea last week while awaiting access to one of the area’s crowded ports.
The ship, owned by Hapag-Lloyd, later sailed to Oakland, California, where the Coast Guard boarded it Wednesday. Data from the navigation service MarineTraffic shows the Rotterdam Express may have made three unusual movements over two days that appear to put it over the pipeline, The Associated Press reported.
Hapag-Lloyd spokesman Nils Haupt denied in an email to USA TODAY that the ship and its crew did anything wrong. He said the ship arrived in the area on Sept. 21.
“The anchor was dropped exactly as requested and confirmed” by port officials, Haupt said. “It did not move until Oct. 3, then it left (for) Oakland. It was basically 12 days on a standstill on the very same position.”
Haupt said the ship did not pass over the pipeline and no oil was spotted around the ship. Hapag-Lloyd is fully cooperating with authorities, he said.
A U.S. official told the AP on Wednesday that the Rotterdam Express has become a focus of the spill investigation. The official cautioned the ship is only one lead being pursued in the investigation, which is in the early stages. The official could not discuss the investigation publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
According to MarineTraffic data, the Rotterdam Express left San Francisco Bay on Thursday morning. The ship scheduled on the Hapag-Lloyd website had it heading to Seattle and Vancouver. The ship, however, turned south, bound for Manzanillo, Mexico.
The investigation continues as authorities clean up the oil. The Unified Command, led by the Coast Guard, said more than 400 crewmembers were in cleanup operations. Up to 1,500 people were expected to be sent by the end of the week, the command said in a statement.
Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley urged residents to join the cleanup.
“Calling on thousands of volunteers to assist with clean up efforts, once conditions are deemed safe,” Foley tweeted. “Please sign up to volunteer so we can get our beaches cleaned up.”
Foley said volunteers will receive four hours of training to protect their health and to ensure hazardous materials are disposed of properly.
More than 2 miles of containment boom had been deployed as of Wednesday, and 5,544 gallons of crude oil had been recovered, the Coast Guard said. The Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center said that so far 19 birds had been recovered alive and at least five others had died.
Bacon reported from Arlington, Virginia.