The U.S. Coast Guard and Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary have been working to contain a small oil leak discovered nearly two weeks ago from the shipwreck Nordmeer.
Chief Mark Szoboszlay said the Coast Guard discovered a "sheen" in the vicinity of the Nordmeer wreck on July 24 while out on patrol. The marine sanctuary was immediately contacted for assistance to try and determine where the source of the sheen was located. The sanctuary deployed divers and they discovered residual oil coming from a three inch pipe in the vicinity of the Nordmeer's engine room.
The two agencies believe the oil is a thicker type, known as No. 6 oil. After the Nordmeer was wrecked in 1966 north of Thunder Bay Island, about 60,000 gallons of oil were salvaged from the ship around 1970, Szoboszlay said.
"There is not a source or big pile of oil in this ship," he said. "What it is, it's a residual coating inside the pipe and over the winter, possibly when the superstructure of the Nordmeer collapsed, it could have put undue stress on the pipe and caused the flange to break."
Szoboszlay said the oil would not come out in cooler water temperatures, but the oil has started to surface as the water has warmed. Divers discovered residual oil drops approximately the size of peanut M&Ms or dimes coming to the surface about every 10-15 seconds. The drops disperse when they reach the surface, giving the impression there's more oil but the actual amount of leaking oil is minute. The environmental impact is expected to be minimal.
The Coast Guard has been the lead agency in the response and the sanctuary has served in a support role. The sanctuary deployed divers and reviewed historical background to help the Coast Guard in its decision making, said Jeff Gray, sanctuary superintendent.
"Our dive team did an amazing job of finding that. It's a mangled wreck so actually locating the source of it was a huge accomplishment," he said.
Deputy Superintendent Russ Green said the leak was discovered in about 20 feet of water. Three divers were deployed and four sets of dives took place before the leak was found.
The public has been made aware of the situation through a broadcast notice sent to mariners every six hours. The broadcasts have been sent since July 26, Szoboszlay said.
"My recommendation is to stay away from it until we can get it all corrected," he said.
Szoboszlay said a company has been contracted to seal the pipe. Divers from the company dove the site on Thursday and took exact dimensions of the flange. The flange will be sealed with rubber and a metal cap will be bolted to it. Crews were planning to seal the pipe between 7:30-8:30 a.m. today. The containment efforts are being paid through the federal National Pollution Fund.
Gray said both agencies will continue to monitor the site on the short and long term.
Patty Ramus can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5687.