Grounding in Lake Michigan splits tug’s keel, damages barges

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the grounding of a tugboat and two barges on the shore of Lake Michigan near Glencoe, Ill., during a storm. The three crewmen aboard the tug were rescued by helicopter after the vessel began taking on water.

The 56-foot Kristin J was towing two construction barges from Milwaukee, Wis., to project sites in Illinois when it ran aground on Glencoe Shoal at about 0030 on Oct. 2, 2010, the Coast Guard reported. Wave heights in the area were five to eight feet, with wind gusts of up to 35 knots.

The tugboat Kristin J is hard aground on Glencoe Shoal near Glencoe, Ill., Oct. 2, 2010. Three people aboard the vessel were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard after Kristin J, with two construction barges in tow, began taking on water. (Photo courtesy Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Ford)

At about 0900, the tug’s crew radioed Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan that the vessel was taking on water. An HH-65C Dolphin helicopter was dispatched from Air Station Traverse City in Michigan, and the three men were lifted to safety at 1130. No injuries were reported.

Kristin J, owned by Edward E. Gillen Co. of Milwaukee, was towing the 140-foot scow No. 40 and the 70-foot scow No. 7, a sectional crane barge, when the groundings occurred. No. 40 was loaded with 300 tons of beach sand.

“The 40 barge went aground first, then the captain lost control and ran aground with the tug, which was pushed on the same shoal,” said Roger Teitz, marine superintendent for Gillen. “Sometime after that, the 7 barge ran aground with it.”

Teitz said the grounding split the tug’s keel and the bottom of the vessel was breached with a puncture. Kristin J has a draft of seven and a half feet, while water over the limestone shoal can be just two feet deep.

“The 40 barge had some cracking in the stern from scow 7 breaking up against it during the storm, but (there was) relatively little damage,” he said. “In the sectional barge, three of the six sections were damaged.”

Salvage operations were hampered by strong winds during the next few days. Scow No. 7 was removed by Gillen crews on Oct. 5, with scow No. 40 pulled off the shoal Oct. 7. More effort was needed to recover Kristin J, which wasn’t refloated until Oct. 11.

“It turned out it was about a 70-ton (lift) for the boat, and it was out of reach in shallow water for our crane barges,” Teitz said. “We had to get additional floats underneath the tug and then float it into deep-enough water to make the final pick with two opposing cranes.”

A 900-foot containment boom was deployed around Kristin J and the barges before the salvage operation, the Coast Guard said. The tug sustained a minor fuel leak during the grounding, but little pollution was reported.

“Shoreline surveys this morning (Oct. 5) revealed little to no sheen along the lake,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Meier of Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan. About 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel were removed from the tug later that day.

Rich Miller

By Professional Mariner Staff