GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A diesel fuel leak from a cargo vessel on Lake Michigan near Manistee has been plugged and cleanup is underway.
“They are focused on making sure as much of it is cleaned up as possible, making sure the public is safeguarded from it and getting that hole repaired enough so that they can bring it into port for full repairs,” Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy spokesman Hugh McDiarmid said.
Around 2:50 p.m. Wednesday, crews on the M/V Manitowoc noticed fuel gages rising, a sign of leaking fuel. The vessel was located about 1.5 miles offshore near Manistee’s Fifth Avenue Beach. Capt. Seth Parker, Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Lake Michigan Sector said the leak was initially reported as the result of a possible 1-inch hole but said the Coast Guard has not validated that number and is still investigating.
“(The Manitowoc) had a hole in one or more of its fuel tanks,” McDiarmid told News 8 Thursday. “The vessel has plugged the hole, has shifted fuel around in the fuel tanks immediately to stop the release. So the release has not been ongoing for some time.”
The hole is the result of a possible water intrusion into the starboard side of a fuel tank, Parker said.
The tank that was damaged can hold 45,000 gallons, but nowhere near that much fuel was spilled, McDiarmid said, because much of it was pumped into another tank.
The U.S. Coast Guard said a red slick around 1.6 miles long by 200 yards wide was seen within a few hours of the initial report. Four hundred feed of absorbent booms were put into the water to soak up the fuel. That effort was suspended Thursday afternoon for poor weather but will continue once conditions subside, Parker said.
“The Coast Guard is in the process of assessing the spill, both by air and by water,” McDiarmid said. “They’ve placed booms around some of the slicks and around the vessel itself while the hole is more adequately repaired.”
Thursday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard conducted an additional overflight and saw a visible sheen 8 nautical miles north of Manistee. It was about 2 nautical miles long by .75 nautical miles wide. The closest land was Portage Point Woods Preserve in Onekama Township, said Parker.
McDiarmid said EGLE has two main public health goals: Making sure people don’t drink contaminated water and making sure people don’t touch it.
“EGLE has mapped the water intakes for water supplies and there is no threat to the water supplies. The closest water intake, I believe, is 27 miles south of the release and the release is moving north,” he said. “The city of Manistee is on ground water, so they do not have a water intake in Lake Michigan. So we’re confident that drinking water is fully protected.”
The spill is also not expected to drift all the way to the beach, though the city of Manistee has closed the 5th Avenue beach and North Beach Access “out of caution because of the close proximity of the Manitowoc to these beaches and to these heavily-used areas,” said Tom Hernden, Fire Chef of Manistee. He said there was no signs that fuel had reached the beach.
“There will be wildlife impact dependent on the water columns as it dissipates through and evaporates through the environment,” said Parker.
He warned not to try to rescue injured wildlife.
McDiarmid said officials are keeping an eye on it and will take action if it does reach the shoreline. Still, the Coast Guard is asking the public, including boaters, to stay away from areas with diesel. If you see diesel reaching the shoreline, you can call 231.723.6241.