Coast Guard, partners investigating possible vessel involvement in California spill

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(SAN FRANCISCO) — The U.S. Coast Guard and partner agencies are in the process of investigating the cause of the pipeline fracture off the coast of Southern California, the service said Friday.

A joint investigation is being led by the Coast Guard, 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).

The Coast Guard commandant designated the oil spill, initially estimated by officials at up to 126,000 gallons, as a major marine casualty.

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A Beta Offshore pipeline off the coast of Southern California was reported ruptured on Oct. 3. U.S. Coast Guard photo

Marine casualties are categorized based on their severity to include reportable marine casualties as the lowest level of severity, serious marine incidents as the next level, and major marine casualties as the highest level. A major marine casualty is a marine casualty involving a vessel that results in one or more of the following:

• The loss of six or more lives.
• The loss of a mechanically propelled vessel of 100 or more gross tons.
• Property damage initially estimated as $500,000 or more.
• Serious threat, as determined by the commandant and concurred with by the NTSB chairman, to life, property or the environment by hazardous materials.

As part of its mission to prevent and mitigate marine accidents, the Coast Guard investigates the causes of marine casualties and analyzes investigation data in an effort to identify measures that will promote safety, protect the environment, and to prevent future accidents. The primary purpose of a marine casualty investigation is to ascertain, as closely as possible:

• The cause of the casualty.
• Whether an act of misconduct, incompetence, negligence, unskillfulness or willful violation of the law has been committed so that appropriate remedial actions may be taken.
• Whether there is evidence that an act subjecting the offender to a civil penalty under the laws of the United States has been committed, so that appropriate action may be undertaken to collect the penalty.
• Whether there is evidence that a criminal act under laws of the United States have been committed, so the matter may be referred to appropriate authorities for prosecution.
• Whether there is need for new laws or regulations, or amendment or repeal of existing laws or regulations to prevent the recurrence of the casualty.

The pipeline P00547 spill has been deemed a major marine casualty due to the potential involvement of a vessel and the resulting damages estimated in excess of $500,000. As a major marine casualty, the NTSB is also conducting an investigation and working in coordination with the Coast Guard. Other agencies involved include PHMSA and BSEE. These four agencies are working in conjunction with California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

If the public has any information about the incident they are requested to contact the NTSB hotline at

– U.S. Coast Guard

By Professional Mariner Staff