Michigan to sue tug operator for damaging cables, pipelines (UPDATE)

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The following is text of a news release from the U.S. Coast Guard:

(MACKINAW CITY, Mich.) — The unified command completed the underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) visual assessment of American Transmission Co.’s six utility cables on Monday.

ATC contracted with Durocher Marine and T&T Subsea to provide tugs, a barge, and an ROV to assess the condition of the utility cables.

The ROV obtained underwater visual imagery showing that two of six cables were severed.

With the sonar scan and visual assessment complete, ATC, Durocher Marine, and T&T Subsea are developing a plan to effectively cap the ends of the severed cables to prevent any potential pollution. After approval of the plan by the unified command, the capping operation will begin later this week.

Under the oversight of the unified command, American Transmission Co. continues to extract mineral oil from two damaged cables in the Straits of Mackinac. To date, approximately 590 gallons of mineral oil has been extracted from the two cables.


The following is text of a news release from Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette:

(LANSING, Mich.) — Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has notified VanEnkevort Tug and Barge Inc. that he will bring a civil action against the company whose ship dragged an anchor across state bottomlands and submerged electric and petroleum pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, causing the release of a hazardous substance and potentially harming aquatic life and the lakebed.

Based on available information, the Department of Attorney General has determined that the VanEnkevort-owned Clyde S. VanEnkevort passed through the straits' shipping channel at the time the ATC cables and Enbridge Line 5 pipelines were damaged on Sunday, April 1. 

“Protecting our waters is part of being a Michiganian. The waters of the Great Lakes surround our home, and we have a duty to protect them,” said Schuette. “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. Allowing a large anchor to drag along the bottomlands in the straits has resulted in violations of state law, and we will hold Vanenkevort accountable.”

Schuette is enforcing the water resources protection portion of the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, which forbids the direct or indirect discharge of substances into water that are potentially damaging to, among other things, fish and other aquatic life. Each discharge is punishable by a civil fine of up to $25,000 per day of violation, as well as damages for harm to natural resources, attorney’s fees and court costs. 

Schuette also notified VanEnkevort that damage caused by its ship’s anchor has triggered common law claims, including public nuisance and trespassing on state-owned lands. 

The civil action against VanEnkevort only applies to state civil violations, and does not address any federal law claims, or any criminal culpability or liability of any individuals who may be responsible for the anchor deployment or maintenance.

Click here to read the letter sent by Schuette to VanEnkevort.

By Professional Mariner Staff