Diesel fuel spills into Lake Huron after tug and barge sink

Jul 19, 2012

Friday, July 20, 9:06 a.m.

The U.S. Coast Guard released a statement this morning declaring that the diesel fuel tanks onboard the sunken dredge, the Arthur J, have been secured and that no more diesel fuel is spilling into Lake Huron:

All the fuel valves and vents on the Arthur J have been plugged. 

The Arthur J has ten vents to its fuel tank and responders where able to plug four of them early Thursday afternoon, but six remained open until responders were able to plug them late Thursday night.

The impact to the shoreline has been minimal; however there is visible sheening along the shores of Lakeport, but there has been no report of a thick product wash ashore. However, there is still a strong diesel odor in the air, so residents and visitors of the lower Lake Huron area are encouraged to avoid areas where there is an odor in the air.

Thursday, July 19, 12:26 p.m.

Mlive.com reports that if storms do not let up, all 1,500 gallons of diesel fuel will get into Lake Huron.

The Michigan Department of Enviromental Quality is monitoring the situation from the periphery, and spokesman Brad Wurfel said ongoing storms may limit the effectiveness of the containment boom.

"We're hoping to recover all we can," he said. "But it's anticipated that if the storms do not let up, it's best to plan on the idea that all 1,500 gallons will get into the lake."

The weather, the weight of the fuel, wind direction and underwater currents make it difficult to predict where the fuel may head. Some local beaches may see a sheen, Wurfel said, but the "environmental impact is not expected to be catastrophic."

"The upside is, it's a big lake. A lot of this will dissipate."

St. Clair County officials have closed all public beaches on Lake Huron as a precautionary measure, according to health education and planning director Jennifer Michalul.

A local hazmat team and fire crew are aiding the Coast Guard, which has established 100-yard safety zone around the periphery of the oil sheen.

11:16 a.m.

Here's a clip of our interview with Coast Guard Lieutenant Justin Westmiller. He says the environmental impact of the fuel leak is unclear.

10:42 a.m.

We just learned in the newsroom that the material spilled into Lake Huron is diesel fuel, not oil as other news outlets reported this morning. The Coast Guard estimates the tug and barge that sank were carrying between 1,500 and 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel. They're still working on estimates of how much is spilling into the lake. WWJ now reports that Coast Guard officials say the amount of oil spilled into the lake was "negligible."

10:31 a.m.

WDIV now reports that a dredge boat and its tug sank this morning after taking water starting at 4 a.m. The say six people were on board and all are safe.

The dredge boat was carrying between 1,500 to 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel, which is now leaking out into the water.

Westmiller said pollution crews are at the scene and the company that owns the dredge boat – MCM Marine Inc – has already hired Michigan Pollution Control to begin the clean up

9:59 a.m.

There are news reports about a barge sinking in Lake Huron this morning spilling thousands of gallons of fuel.

WWJ reports the U.S. Coast Guard has confirmed reports of an accident with a 110-foot barge and tug boat:

Lt. Justin Westmiller said a tug boat that was pulling the dredge, a machine on the barge that scoops or suctions sediment from the bottom of waterways, also flipped over. All personnel on board have been accounted for and there are no injuries. The barge was not a government operated vessel.

Westmiller said the Coast Guard is on the scene, but they are dealing with some weather issues. He said they are doing what they can to protect the water the best they can.

WDIV reports the barge and tug were two miles off shore near Lakeport north of Port Huron.

We're following this story and will post more as we learn it.

*Correction - An earlier version of this story stated oil was spilled into Lake Huron. Diesel fuel was the primary substance of concern spilled into the lake. The copy and headline has been corrected above.