Firm Being Probed for Its Role During Oil Spill

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the owner of a Long Beach marine company for alleged misconduct and hiding the severity of damage to an offshore oil pipeline that caused a tiny amount of crude oil to spill two months ago.

Unocal, which owns the pipeline and hired the Long Beach firm, also faces possible fines if federal officials conclude that the company failed to properly manage the marine contractor. The damage occurred June 11 as a crew from Hydro Marine tried to retrieve a missing buoy chain and sinker with a grappling hook. The hook hit the pipeline, causing it to bend and crack, according to the Coast Guard.

The damage was unreported for six days. On June 17, a gallon or two of oil slicked the ocean. Unocal shut the pipeline as soon as the sheen was detected. The cost of repairs is estimated at $1 million.