Aug 10, 2023

Hull breach sends 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel into Lake Michigan

Update: Fuel travels north but stays offshore

MANISTEE, MI — Roughly 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel is believed to have spilled into Lake Michigan through a hull breach on a stricken freighter.

Absorbent boom was placed around the bulk freighter Manitowoc following the spill, which began about 2:50 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 2 while the ship was leaving Manistee.

The ship remained anchored Thursday about 1.5 miles offshore of 5th Avenue Beach while crews repair damage to the starboard fuel tank, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The spill has been stopped. Efforts to move fuel into an undamaged tank on the ship managed to lower fuel levels below the hole on Wednesday, according to the Coast Guard.

A cause for the spill remains under investigation.

No injuries have been reported.

Although the Coast Guard initially advised people to avoid 5th Avenue Beach on Wednesday evening due to wind and waves pushing fuel to shore, the agency walked that back later and said in an overnight release that there are “no known impact to beaches at this time.”

The Coast Guard is attempting to track the sheen. A red slick about 1.6 miles long and 200 yards wide was moving northeast from the ship on Wednesday. Absorbent boom was removed from around the Manitowoc on Thursday because the spill was stopped and there is no evidence of sheen around the vessel.

A sheen was reported just under a mile offshore north of the Portage Lake channel at Onekama on Thursday afternoon, prompting efforts to contain it with boom. Diesel fuel had not made landfall as of mid-afternoon.

An exact spill volume is still being determined but personnel on the Manitowoc initially estimated about 1,000 gallons, according to the Coast Guard, which gave a worst case scenario estimate in its overnight news release, saying the “maximum spill potential is 45,174 gallons.”

The two fuel tanks affected by the breach together have a 45,174-gallon capacity, said Coast Guard Lt. Heather Stemmerman. A third internal tank was not affected.

Stemmerman said it is difficult to determine an exact spill volume until soundings can be taken while the vessel is docked.

“It’s definitely not anywhere close to 45,000″ gallons, she said.

The Coast Guard asked people to avoid the slick and not attempt to rescue wildlife that may be affected due to the health hazard posed by diesel fuel exposure. The public should call (231) 723-6241 to report any diesel on the shoreline.

Marine diesel fuel is denser and more oily than other refined petroleum-based fuels but does dissipate and evaporate when spilled on water. It can spread quickly in the wind.

“It looks like it’s evaporating quickly,” Stemmerman said.

The spill has not affected drinking water.

A Unified Command involving federal, state and local agencies has been established to oversee and direct cleanup efforts.

The 630-foot self-unloading bulk freighter Manitowoc sails under a Canadian flag. It is owned by Rand Logistics and operated by the Grand River Navigation Company.

The Manitowoc is a regular sight in Manistee. The ship left mid-day Wednesday after unloading coal at Tondu Energy Services in Filer City on Manistee Lake.

Related stories:

Freighter spill sends fuel toward Manistee beach

Lampricide contamination sparks Ludington lawsuit

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