LAKEPORT (WWJ) – Fifteen beaches along Lake Huron are been closed after a  110-foot  dredging barge sank, causing a tugboat to capsize.  (Scroll down for a list of closed beaches).

Lt. Justin Westmiller said Marine Pollution Control workers were on the scene, Thursday afternoon, trying to stop the flood of 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the water.

“The MPC folks are preparing to attempt to put a diver in the water to possible attempt to block the vents on the fuel tank, the leaking fuel tank,” Westmiller said.

Coast Guard officials said bad weather is slowing their efforts and might have played a role in the mishap. Two- to 4-foot seas, 15- to 20-knot winds and heavy rain were reported.

Westmiller said the incident happened around 4:30 a.m. Thursday when the commercial barge went down in stormy waters. He said a tugboat that was pushing the dredge, a machine that scoops or suctions sediment from the bottom of waterways, also flipped over.

“The dredge ‘Arthur J.’ and then the tug ‘Madison,’ which is a 38-foot tending tug that was connected to the dredge, and basically when the dredge sunk, it dragged the tug down with it,” said Westmiller.

“The dredge and the Madison, they were tied together kind of in side tow, and then the ‘Drummond Islander Two’ was pulling both of them in stern tow… and that’s where all the people were on board,” he continued.

About 1,500 to 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled into the lake about five nautical miles north-northwest of the entrance to the St. Clair River, one nautical mile from the Michigan shoreline and four nautical miles from Canadian waters. Although the vessel can potentially carry 8,000 gallons of fuel, it wasn’t full to capacity.

Westmiller said oil also spilled into the lake, although he called the amount “negligible.” He said a 500-foot sheen could be seen on the lake’s surface. Westmiller said the Coast Guard is doing what they can to protect the water the best they can.

All personnel on board have been accounted for and there are no injuries. Both the Arthur J. and the Madison vessels are owned by MCM Marine.

The St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department has also sent out a hazardous materials team, plus boats and booms, to try to contain the fuel.

“Our other objectives are to initiate any appropriate actions to control the source and minimize further release, assess the trajectory of any hazardous materials in the water and identify any sensitive areas that need protecting, and keep the public informed as best we can,” said Westmiller.

Officials say weather is slowing containment and cleanup efforts.

The vessels remain partially submerged in 22 feet of water but are outside the shipping channel, so commercial shipping has not been affected. However, any mariners in the area should proceed with caution.

The Coast Guard has established a 100-yard safety zone and is broadcasting a safety marine information broadcast to mariners in the area.  The Coast Guard has notified the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency, Environment Canada and St. Clair County Emergency Management.

The cause of the accident is unknown. An investigation is ongoing.

As a precautionary measure, the St. Clair County Health Department has closed the following Great Lakes beaches:

Lake Huron – Burtchville Township Park Lakeport
Lake Huron – Jeddo Road Beach Lakeport
Lake Huron – Metcalf Road Beach Burtchville
Lake Huron – Fort Gratiot County Park Fort Gratiot
Lake Huron – Lakeport State Park Lakeport
Lake Huron – Lakeport State Park Campground Lakeport
Lake Huron – Washington Street Park Lakeport
Lake Huron – Keewadhin Road Beach Fort Gratiot
Lake Huron – Krafft Road Beach Port Huron
Lake Huron – Lakeside Beach Port Huron
Lake Huron – Holland Road Beach Port Huron
Lake Huron – Conger-Lighthouse Beach Port Huron
St. Clair River – Chrysler Park Beach Marysville
St. Clair River – Marine City Beach Marine City
St. Clair River – Marine City Diving Area Marine City

Five inland beaches remain open.


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