Michigan May Sue Tug Operator for Anchor-Dragging Damage

C.J. Kirwer, a contractor from T&T Subsea, with a remotely operated underwater vehicle (USCG photo)

Published Apr 17, 2018 7:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced that he may sue a Great Lakes ATB operator for "a discharge of an injurious substance in the Straits of Mackinac."

Schuette alleged that on April 1, the ATB tugboat Clyde S. VanEnkevort transited the Straits of Mackinac while dragging her anchor, striking and damaging two power transmission cables owned by the American Transmission Company. Over the course of several days, the cables released an estimated 600 gallons of mineral oil into the water. 

In a statement, Schuette alleged that “the vessel ignored markers in the channel and clearly identified hazards on navigational charts that make clear that an anchor should not be deployed in this area of Straits." He warned that the tug's operator could face liability under state water pollution laws carrying penalties of up to $25,000 per day of violation, plus court costs and damages. 

Pipeline operator Enbridge said that two crude oil pipelines adjacent to the power lines - the twin Line 5 pipes - were dented but not ruptured. The lines are currently in service. 

The Coast Guard and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have not yet identified any observable environmental damage from the mineral oil spill. As of April 15, responders had extracted 300 gallons of the dielectric fluid from the cables to reduce further harm. Once surface conditions allow, contractors Durocher Marine and T&T Subsea intend to deploy side-scanning sonar and an ROV to identify the extent of the damage. 

The Coast Guard marine casualty investigation into the vessel activity that may have contributed to damage to the ATC cables and the dents in the Enbridge pipelines is ongoing, and is separate from the State of Michigan's claims. The tug's owner, VanEnkevort Tug & Barge, is participating in the Coast Guard investigation and declined to comment further. 

VanEnkevort Tug & Barge is a privately owned ATB bulker operator serving the Great Lakes region. The Clyde S. VanEnkevort is a purpose-built ATB tug, and is normally mated to the self-unloading barge Erie Trader.