Crews to begin hunt for leak near sunken barge in Lake Erie

25 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Barge on bottom of lake.

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — The Coast Guard says contractors will search for the source of what appears to be a petroleum leak coming from a sunken barge found recently in Lake Erie near the U.S. -Canadian border may be the remains of a vessel loaded with oil or some type of solvent when it sunk nearly 80 years ago and now is on a federal list of wrecks that could pose a pollution threat, shipwreck hunters said Saturday. But it was only on Friday, during a dive to confirm the sunken vessel’s dimensions after a Coast Guard contractor’s divers earlier last week raised doubts about its identity, that Tom Kowalczk, director of research and remote sensing for the Cleveland Underwater Explorers, noticed the intermittent appearance of small oily droplets on the water’s surface directly above the wreck.

Coast Guard said it is investigating a small leak spotted near the wreckage just in the last few days, although it’s not clear whether it’s an ongoing leak or what kind of substance might be coming from the barge. “We’re fairly certain there’s a leak,” said Cmdr. Like about half of the wrecks on the list, the Argo’s exact whereabouts have been unknown since it went down during a storm in 1937 in western Lake Erie — about midway between Toledo and Cleveland. Anthony Migliorini, commander of the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Office in Toledo, said further investigation Saturday confirmed the apparent leak, including discoloration of the water visible from an aircraft as well as “an odor of a solvent-like smell.” During the news conference today, Commander Migliorini said a 1,000-foot radius around the site has been declared “a regulatory safety zone” into which mariners are not to enter. Shipwreck hunter Tom Kowalczk, who lives along the lake, discovered the barge in August while he was searching for a wooden schooner that sunk in 1845 between Ohio’s Kelleys Island and Pelee Island in Canada.

The Argo is believed to have been carrying about 100,000 gallons each of crude light oil and benzol, a tar-like material containing benzene and toluene, when the barge became distressed during the storm and was abandoned by the tug towing it. Early this decade, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration listed it among 89 shipwrecks believed to pose a significant environmental threat to United States waters because of their cargoes or fueling systems.

Five of those vessels were lost in the Great Lakes, and of them the Argo was deemed potentially most dangerous because of the size and unknown status of its cargo. The NOAA assessment of the Argo, prepared in 2013, said its most likely position was in Canadian waters southeast of Pelee Island, but close enough to American waters that any discharge posed a hazard on both sides of that maritime border. Kowalczk to commission his own dive on Friday, and he said the results from that measurement matched, within about a foot for both length and width, the Argo’s records. “Ten to 15 seconds, and it was gone,” Mr. Kowalczk said, adding that there had been occasional reports over the years of boaters smelling a similar odor in that area, but nothing was ever documented or confirmed.

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