2018-05-12 / News

U.S. Coast Guard Investigation Continues Into Damaged Cables

By Stephanie Fortino

While the U.S. Coast Guard’s investigation is ongoing into what punctured two American Transmission Company (ATC) electric cables and dented Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 twin pipelines, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette identified articulated tug Clyde S. Van Enkevort as having caused the damage Tuesday, April 17. He filed a lawsuit against the tug’s owner VanEnkevort Tug & Barge of Escanaba Thursday, April 19.

As of April 17, the Coast Guard was still in the fact-finding phase of the investigation, said Commander Shaun Edwards.

The Coast Guard’s goal is to determine “What happened, how it happened, and how to prevent it from happening again in the future,” Cmdr. Edwards said.

Depending on the results of the investigation, which may take months to complete a report, the Coast Guard may take action against a mariner’s license, if a mariner is found to be at fault for the damage either through wrongdoing or human error. The Department of Justice could also begin criminal proceedings.

In the lawsuit, Mr. Schuette alleges that the company’s tug Clyde S. Van Enkenvort dragged an anchor through the Straits of Mackinac, puncturing the cables, which caused the release of insulating oil into Lake Michigan.

The attorney general said he 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.

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

VanEnkevort Tug & Barge spokesman Darrell Wilson confirmed that the shipping company is involved in the ongoing investigation, but declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“VanEnkevort Tug & Barge confirms they are actively engaged with the Coast Guard in an investigation into an incident that occurred in the Straits of Mackinac,” he said Thursday, April 19. “An underwater power cable was reported to be damaged on April 1st and a tug and one of our barges were among several vessels which transited the area. We are fully participating with all relevant authorities as they conduct the investigation. Due to the ongoing investigation it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time.”

The Coast Guard will not announce what caused the damage until the investigation is finished.

Cmdr. Edwards did say that the Coast Guard has interviewed the crews of ships that traveled through the Straits of Mackinac during the time the incident is believed to have occurred Sunday, April 1. The Coast Guard is also analyzing automatic identification systems (AIS) marine traffic information as part of the investigation.

Enbridge’s Line 5 pipelines are located about 400 yards to the east of the ATC electric cables, which are about two miles west of the Mackinac Bridge. The area is clearly marked on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration charts as “no anchor zones” because of the cables and pipes, said Coast Guard Lieutenant Junior Grade Sean Murphy. The charts also warn mariners to use extreme caution when traveling there. While there are no specific Coast Guard regulations that prohibit ships from dropping anchors in the area, he said, “prudent seamanship” would be to not drop an anchor.

Mariners must report if they are involved in what the Coast Guard terms a “marine causality,” which covers a wide range of incidents, from mechanical failures to deaths to anything that could harm the environment. The only place in the northern Great Lakes where mariners must report when they anchor is the St. Marys River, LT JG Murphy said. If mariners drop an anchor and cause a marine causality anywhere, however, they must report it to the U.S. Coast Guard.

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