Graham Kilmer

Tugboat Sinks in Port Milwaukee

The tug Michigan took on water Monday, raising concerns of possible pollution from its cargo.

By - Jan 3rd, 2023 04:11 pm
The tugboat Michigan. Photo from the U.S. Coast Guard.

The tugboat Michigan. Photo from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Less than two years after a tugboat sank in the Milwaukee Port’s inner harbor, another has been claimed — this time only partially so.

The tugboat Michigan began to take on water Monday morning, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The 112-foot towing vessel was sitting in 26 feet of water, at its mooring, when it partially sank. The Michigan was last active in April 2022, when its crew sailed her down from the deep water seaport of Cheboygan, Michigan on Lake Huron, through the straits of Mackinac and down to Milwaukee.

“At this point in time, the Coast Guard’s focus is the marine environmental protection and the potential waterway impacts,” said Capt. Seth Parker, Commander of Sector Lake Michigan, in a statement Monday.

The Michigan has the capacity for approximately 40,000 gallons of oil and fuel, and the Coast Guard has deployed 100 feet of absorbent booms around the vessel in the event she begins to leak fuel or oil. The owners of the vessel, U.S. Venture, Inc., have contracted a maritime salvage crew.

“Coast Guard pollution responders along with partners from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Milwaukee Harbor Patrol, the Port of Milwaukee and representatives of MICHIGAN are on-scene for the ongoing incident,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.

The cause of the partial sinking remains undetermined, but a dive team is expected to arrive in the coming days, said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Phillip Gertler. While the Michigan can carry 40,000 gallons of fuel, it’s estimated that it was only carrying approximately 14,000 at the time it began to take on water, Gertler said. The vessel was laid-up, he said, “basically it was parked for the winter.”

U.S. Venture, Inc., is the parent company of U.S. Oil, a petroleum and energy company that is also a tenant of Port Milwaukee. U.S. Oil has a terminal and a pipeline that it uses to load ethanol onto barges and ships from the port’s Liquid Cargo Dock. That pipeline was approved in 2017, but not before members of the Milwaukee Common Council amended the agreement to prohibit the firm from shipping crude oil out of Milwaukee’s port. Even with this assurance, elected officials were still concerned about the potential for spills of ethanol or liquid natural gas.

The Michigan was built in 1982 by Bay Shipbuilding Co. of Sturgeon Bay. It regularly pushes a barge named Great Lakes, which it was connected to when it began to take on water. Great Lakes is a barge that typically carries liquid cargo. Michigan is operated by the Maritime company Andrie, Inc., flies under a U.S. flag and is registered at the port in Whiting, Indiana, according to Great Lakes Tugs & Workboats.

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Categories: Environment

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