Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bulker Runs Aground Off Long Beach

A storm sweeping through Southern California February 18 led to the grounding of the Panamanian-flagged bulker M/V Ocean Sunrise on Island Freeman, one of four man-made oil islands located off the Long Beach shore, according to United States Coast Guard reports.

The 624-foot vessel drifted from its anchorage in San Pedro Bay and struck the rock-clad 14.6-acre island around 6:30 p.m. The ship had been at anchor southeast of the Port of Long Beach under the order of the Coast Guard for more than a week after a routine inspection found debris in an oil tank.

Once the vehicle was secured following the incident, the Coast Guard inspected the vessel for leaks and conducted mandatory drug and alcohol tests of the vessel's 25-man crew.

An early morning fly-over Saturday by a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter aircrew from Air Station Los Angeles along with a Coast Guard pollution investigator did not identify any oil sheens near the ship or Island Freeman where the vessel ran aground.

The Los Angeles Port Police and Long Beach Police also sent dive boats out with Coast Guard personnel onboard to inspect the Ocean Sunrise's hull integrity under the waterline using divers and a remotely operated vehicle. Video taken from the ROV showed multiple scrapes along the hull but no damage that could cause the vessel to sink or leak oil.

The port built the four roughly 10-acre islands in the mid-1960s as platforms to drill more than 1,100 oil wells into the East Wilmington Oil Field located beneath the bay. All four were completed by the end of 1966.

The islands, built in roughly 30-45 feet of water, are camouflaged with landscaping, steel facades and sculptural concrete screens. A common myth is that the aesthetic work was designed by Walt Disney or one of his animators. This myth likely grew out of the fact that one of the primary landscape architects on the project, Joseph Linesch, went on to do many theme park projects around the world, including Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

In 1967, the Long Beach City Council renamed the islands after the four US astronauts that had died in the line of service up to that time. Three islands were named after the astronauts who died in the January 1967 Apollo 1 capsule fire: Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee. The fourth, located 1.25 miles off-shore, is named for Theodore Freeman, a member of the astronaut corps who died in the crash of a T-38 Talon jet during a 1963 NASA training flight.