A ship's anchor may have caused the oil spill in Huntington Beach over the weekend

Last weekend there were even more people than normal in Huntington Beach. They had come for the Great Pacific Air Show featuring the Thunderbirds (Air Force), the Blue Angels (Navy) and all sorts of stunt pilots flying low over the crowd on the beach. This show has been happening every year since 2016 and it’s pretty spectacular.

The show went ahead as planned on Saturday but Sunday morning the remainder of the show was canceled because of an oil spill which appears to have started off shore just a bit south, near Newport Beach. Not only was the air show canceled but miles of beach were closed with caution tape. All of the parking lots along the shore were blocked off by police and signs were posted warning people to stay out of the water.

The exact cause of the oil spill still isn’t known. What is known is that a pipe taking oil from an offshore drilling facility was somehow cut open and thousands of gallons of oil spilled into the ocean. The spill was first reported Friday night by someone who saw a sheen on the water but the Coast Guard didn’t really react until the next day.

Today the Associated Press is reporting more about the broken pipeline, including suspicion that it might have been dragged by a ship’s anchor.

Preliminary reports suggest the failure may have been “caused by an anchor that hooked the pipeline, causing a partial tear,” federal transportation investigators said.

The break in the line occurred about 5 miles offshore at a depth of about 98 feet (30 meters) beneath the surface, the investigators said. Those findings were included in an order from the Department of Transportation that blocks the company that operates the pipeline from restarting it without extensive inspections and testing…

Coast Guard Capt. Rebecca Ore said divers determined about 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) of the pipeline was “laterally displaced” by about 105 feet (32 meters). She did not say what might have caused it to move.

In addition, the pipeline had a 13-inch (33-centimeter) gash in it, Ore said.

The head of the company that operates the line said the pipe was displaced into “almost a semicircle.”

For anyone who lives along this stretch of the coast, it’s not hard to imagine a ship’s anchor that could do something like this. That’s because for many months now, the ocean between the California shore and Catalina island is full of cargo container ships that have been backed up waiting their turn to unload at the Port of Long Beach. From the beach you can see six or seven ships that form a line but from a higher elevation you see there are actually four or five lines of ships.

You can actually get a live view of the ships currently waiting to unload here. Here’s a current map. The little yellow dots are massive container ships. I counted at least 45-50 that are waiting in the water and there are many more in the vicinity that haven’t joined the queue yet.

CBS LA reported yesterday that there are an estimated 500,000 containers waiting to be offloaded.

So it’s not hard to imagine that one of these ships was farther out and dropped a massive anchor that hooked this pipeline, dragged it and tore it open. I’m sure authorities can identify which ship was in the area of the pipeline Friday. By now they probably have a good idea which ship is responsible. No doubt if that’s confirmed there will be a massive lawsuit between the ship owner and the Texas company that owns the damaged pipeline.

In the meantime, this definitely made a mess along the shore and could keep the beach closed for weeks. That’s an ecological problem which has already resulted in oil covered birds and dead fish, but it’s also an economic one for a bunch of cities that survive on beach tourism.

Gov. Newsom has issued an emergency declaration and as I write this is in Orange County speaking about the spill. You can see some of the container ships behind him in the distance.