US Coast Guard probes anchor strike over California oil spill: report

Los Angeles (AFP) –

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The US Coast Guard is investigating a possible anchor strike as the cause of a broken pipeline that has spewed tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the sea off California, media reported Tuesday.

Around 126,000 gallons of thick, sticky fuel have fouled waters that are home to seals, dolphins and whales since a pipeline ruptured at the weekend.

A 15-mile (24-kilometer) stretch of coastline has been closed to the public, and fishing has been halted as crews scramble to clean up one of California's biggest spills in decades.

The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that the Coast Guard was investigating if a large commercial ship set anchor in the wrong place -- and damaged the pipeline.

Los Angeles and Long Beach are among the busiest container ports in the world. Pandemic-sparked logjams have seen dozens of huge container vessels stationed offshore as they wait for a berth.

Ships are given designated anchor points, usually well away from underwater hazards such as pipelines.

But the LA Times cited a source with knowledge of the investigation into the oil spill, who said a wrongly placed anchor may have dragged the pipeline along the seabed.

Map of south of Los Angeles in California, showing offshore oil platforms and the area closed to fishing after oil spill
Map of south of Los Angeles in California, showing offshore oil platforms and the area closed to fishing after oil spill Patricio ARANA AFP

Officials under a "Unified Command" umbrella group said there are 14 vessels trying to recover oil from the water, with a little more than 4,000 gallons collected by Monday.

"The Unified Command is focused on the health and safety of the public, responders, and the protection of our coastal community," said Coast Guard captain Rebecca Ore.

"We have many dedicated professionals working around the clock to clean up this spill and ensure the safety of the public and environment."

- Wildlife affected -

Amplify Energy, the company that operates the pipeline, said Monday that "as a precautionary measure, all of the company's production and pipeline operations at the Beta Field have been shut down."

CEO Martyn Willsher pledged the firm will do "whatever needs to be done" to take care of the spill, and said the company had significant insurance to cope with associated costs.

The 126,000-gallon oil spill has already started to affect wildlife
The 126,000-gallon oil spill has already started to affect wildlife DAVID MCNEW AFP

At least four birds have been found covered in oil, with reports of other wildlife also affected.

Officials have warned people not to touch or try to save any creatures they find, but instead to call local authorities and alert them to animals affected by the oil.

The spill originated near the Elly platform, which was built in 1980 and is one of 23 oil and gas drilling platforms in federal waters off California, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Environmentalists have repeatedly called attention to the age of some of the facilities -- which they say are rusty and poorly maintained -- and the risks they pose.

The disaster has reignited a debate about the presence of oil rigs and pipelines near the coast of Southern California.