Agencies work to contain oil leaking from tug

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 23, 2018

File photo by Deb Jacques

ST. CLAIR SHORES — The U.S. Coast Guard is coordinating the cleanup of a tugboat that has been found to be leaking oil in Lake St. Clair.

“We received a report of a sheen on Dec. 26, and we have been working to clean up the oil that has been found, actually, inside of the vessel that has actually polluted the waters around the vessel because of the issues with the hull itself,” said Lt. Jodie Knox, incident management division chief for U.S. Coast Guard Sector Detroit.

The boat, the Robin Lynn, is an 81.7-foot-long tugboat located at the Island Harbor Marina, but Knox said they have not been able to find the owner of the boat. The boat belonged to a company that is now dissolved, Knox said.

“We believe the vessel has been used as an illegal dumpsite for used oil,” she said.

The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for coordinating the cleanup of pollution on the nation’s navigable waterways and getting the area cleaned up using federal funds from the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which places a tax on oil to assist with cleanup efforts after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

Knox explained that the Coast Guard’s responsibility was to “hire a contractor, and we oversee that entire operation.”

“We act as the steward of those federal funds to make sure it gets cleaned up.”

Right now, she said, they are working to clean oil out of the inside of the boat. Water mixed with oil was discovered inside the boat, after it had leaked in through a hole in the hull.

“We’re working to thaw the inside of the boat with heaters, and using dewatering pumps (to) pump that oily water into tanks to be disposed of in the proper facility,” Knox said.

The boat is currently surrounded by ice, said Ryan Schwarb, senior environmental quality analyst at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Southeast Michigan District Office Water Resources Division.

“The cleanup of the interior of the vessel is underway and will be completed shortly,” he said in an email interview. “However, the surrounding ice will need to melt prior to the cleanup (of) the oil surrounding the vessel.”

Knox said that two layers of boom have been put outside of the boat to contain the spill and keep it from spreading further out into the lake. The oil surrounding the boat is mostly frozen, as the boat is trapped in ice, but it is thawing on some of the warmer days.

The Coast Guard has been working with Island Harbor Marina to identify the boat’s owner, as well as with the Coast Guard Investigative Service, the law enforcement divisions of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and MDEQ, the Coast Guard legal team, and the National Pollution Fund.

“We’re going to remove the pollution that’s been put on her,” Knox said. “Our concern is (to) work with our state and city and federal partners to address the issue of whether she’s become a ... dump site.”

Schwarb said that anyone who sees suspicious activity in the area is asked to contact local law enforcement and the state of Michigan 24-hour Pollution Emergency Alert System at (800) 292-4706.

“As the oil discharge is currently contained and in the process of being cleaned up, we do not expect any significant impacts to Lake St. Clair from this incident,” he said. “As the cleanup operation has the oil contained, I do not believe there should be any concern with contact with the water outside of the containment area. It is recommended that the public avoids the cleanup operations, as to not disrupt the efforts or to compromise the protective boom.”

The Coast Guard did not have an immediate answer as to how long the boat has been in the marina. A resident report to the Coast Guard sparked the inquiry and cleanup.

The Coast Guard is working with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Natural Resources Fish and Wildlife Services, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Resources-at-Risk coordinator to “make sure that our cleaning efforts align with our federal trustees.”

“It’s been a holistic effort,” Knox continued. “There’s a lot of partners involved in this one, and we’re all working together to get her cleaned up.”