The U.S. Coast Guard continues to work on a partially underwater tugboat in the Port of Duluth to remove fuel and water from the ship.
U.S. Coast Guard Waterways Director Joseph McGinnis told me Monday that the decommissioned U.S. Army tugboat, called Lake Superior, “was on the market over the weekend, but supported by ice.”
related [March 21]: Coast Guard investigates sinking tugboat in Duluth Lake Superior
But by Monday morning, the stern sank as the ice began to melt, McGinnis said. The U.S. Coast Guard was made aware of the issue around 9 a.m. Monday and responded to the tugboat’s slip at Rail Street near Terminal B and the Compass Minerals terminal to mitigate any potential environmental hazard.
It’s unclear what caused the tugboat to start flooding, a question McGinnis told MY News on Wednesday that hopefully will be answered when the boat is lifted out of the water.
The contractor headed to the tugboat on Wednesday “to carry out barge and drainage operations,” McGinnis said, with the goal of removing any fuel, lubricants and water from the vessel. Then, it’s up to Billington Contracting, the owner of the tugboat, to decide what to do from there.
The U.S. Coast Guard said it wanted to make sure the tugs did not pose a threat to the waterway or the environment.
“As the vessel slips, there is no threat to the waterway and no hazard to other vessels. As for environmental safety, the Coast Guard is monitoring the vessel for any contamination. Once all potential diesel, lubricating oil, etc. contaminants have been removed from The ship is cleared and the Coast Guard will not be involved with the ship because there is no threat to the environment,” McGinnis said.
Coast Guard pollution responders continue to monitor the vessel and keep in touch with contractors on site.
McGinnis encouraged the public to call 218-725-3800 or 906-635-3233 if they see the boat sinking or notice “any large smear of oil” in the water.
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The Legendary History of Lake Superior
According to the Great Lakes Tugs and Workboats website, the tugboat has worn many hats since it was built for the U.S. Army in 1943 and named Maj. Emil H. Block.
According to the Star Tribune, she transported a barge in the South Pacific and sank in 1950. After the ship was repaired, it was transferred to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1950 and renamed Lake Superior, Great Lakes Tugs and Workboats said.
The tugboat was decommissioned around 1995 and was donated to the Duluth Recreation and Convention Center, which uses it as a floating museum, the website says. In 2007, a private owner – Billington Contracting of Duluth – purchased the vessel.
The 114-foot-long steel hull tugboat was previously listed for sale, according to an old ad touting the vessel’s stainless steel galley, oak and mahogany wood, brass fixtures and tiled floors.
Lake Superior isn’t the first ex-U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tugboat to pick up water in Duluth. The Essayons, built in 1908, sank to the bottom on March 24, 2009 in Lake Superior, according to media reports. A local businessman has owned the tugboat since 1994 and wanted to convert it into a bed and breakfast.
The Essayon’s engine is now on display at the Duluth Maritime Museum in Canal Park.