INTERNATIONAL TEAM ACTED WITHIN HOURS TO AVERT SARNIA OIL SPILL.
WINDSOR - Two men sleeping peacefully 1,000 miles apart in the early hours of June 5 were awakened by urgent telephone calls that presented them with a clear-cut and awesome task: 49,000 gallons of oil were threatening to spill from a grounded coal carrier into the St. Clair River and had to be stopped.
Stanley Dupont, president of McQueen Marine in Amherstburg, 15 miles away, was at home in bed. Dave Usher, president of Marine Pollution Control of Detroit, was in his motel room in
New Orleans, La.
The grounded ship was the 489-foot SIDNEY E. SMITH Jr., which had collided with the PARKER EVANS, an 11,300-ton grain carrier. The crew of the SMITH was rescued and the sunken vessel was lying on its side like a beached whale in 30 feet of water just south of
the Blue Water Bridge at Sarnia. The current pounded it like a jackhammer, threatening to break it up.
Dupont and Usher were two of an international team of more than 150 people who were to play major roles in a successful effort to combat the threat of a disastrous oil spill.
An oil spill of only 12,000 gallons near Cherry Point, Wash., two weeks ago caused serious fouling of beaches in British Columbia.
About 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel and about 1,000 gallons of bunker oil escaped from the SIDNEY E. SMITH shortly after it went down, but about 800 gallons were recovered in booms set up downriver. Much of the oil that escaped was dispersed and dissipated by the strong currents which carried it to Lake St. Clair.
"Ecologically, damage was very slight," a spokesman said. But the threat was so serious - especially to Walpole Island at the mouth of the St. Clair, which is the breeding ground for thousands of ducks-that Jean Chretien, minister of Indian affairs, made a personal inspection
of the shore along the island's Indian reserve.
Dupont and Usher were key men in an operation that began shortly after seaman apprentice Gregory Anderson received news of the mid-river collision while he was on watch at the U.S. Coast Guard's radio desk at Port Huron. The alarm was sounded about 2.50 a.m. by the Sarnia-based pilot boat that had rescued the crew of the SMITH after the PARKER EVANS ripped through its starboard side.
The first alarm at the coast guard station signaled the start of the international operation that was far less cumbersome than its title: the Joint U.S.-Canada Oil and Hazardous Materials Pollution Contingency Plan. Before the day was out everyone essential to the operation had been contacted and most had arrived at headquarters, Port Huron coast guard base.
Because the collision occurred in U. S. waters, command of the operation fell to Captain Frederick Raumer of the coast guard in Detroit. He was assisted by coast guard Cmdr. Walter Mason, who flew in from Cleveland; Capt. W. J. H. Stuart, of the transport ministry in OttaWa. and Capt. John Bennett of the Canadian Coast Guard in Amherstburg. Bill Collinson, who works for the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency in Detroit, was on the scene two
hours after he was awakened at 4 a.m.
"The coast guard tried to contact the Ontario operations centre at Sarnia but for some reason they couldn't get through," he said. "I had worked closely in the past with John Luyt of the Ontario environment department so I called him direct in Sarnia from Detroit. I woke him up and he got to Port Huron before I did."
At the peak of the operation more than 150 men, several support vessels and 8,100 feet of boom were assembled to stabilize the sunken vessel, pump out the oil and prepare for a major oil spill.
"I got a call - the first of many - at home about 10 minutes after the vessels hit," said Dupont, who keeps a licensed operator on the firm's tug AMHERSTBURG to monitor marine messages. About an hour later, Sidney Smith Jr., owner of the sunken vessel, and president
of Erie Sand Steamship Co., of Pennyslvania, called Dupont. A short time later, the two, accompanied by a representative of Lloyds of London, which had insured the ship, inspected the vessel by air.
Meanwhile, using his New 0 r I e a n s motel room as headquarters, Usher was formulating his own battle plan. "I couldn't get back to Detroit right away so I put on an extra telephone in my room and began mobilizing by phone" He had a fleet of trucks assembled in Detroit and with a police escort they moved up the U. S. side of the St. Clair. The load included two, 40-foot barges which had been hoisted from Detroit harbor on to flat trucks.
They were driven to Marine City, Mich., about half way between Detroit and Port Huron, and dropped back into the water. The barges had equipment for pumping and skimming oil
and debris from the water's surface.
Usher's caravan also included 14 Marine Pollution Control employees and 4,000 feet of boom, 1,500 from the U.S. Coast Guard and 2.500 from the company.
He marshalled his forces at Algonac, Mich., across from Walpole Island, and he had them put out the first boom to protect the beaches at a nearby state park.
The cold water of the St. Clair River hindered pumping operations from the sunken vessel but it also caused the oil to congeal, preventing most of it from escaping through oil vents
in the SMITH.
Crews from McQueen Marine held the sunken vessel in place with 12 huge anchors, each weighing 5 tons and secured by 1½-inch cables. A 100-foot flat scow with oil holding compartments with a total capacity of 120,000 gallons arrived from Amherstburg on Wednesday and the oil was slowly pumped from the SMITH's fuel tanks.
Workers had to drive to Toronto to get equipment to heat the oil to make it flow. The crews' efforts paid off when the last oil was pumped from the wreck at 1.30 am. on June 14.
When the SMITH began to split before all of the oil was pumped out there was concern over a possible major spill and more booms were brought in to protect the environment. About 45,000 of the original 49,000 gallons of oil in the SMITH's fuel tanks were pumped out and delivered to the Imperial Oil refinery in Sarnia for reprocessing.
Elsewhere, coast guard officials held an inquiry to determine who was at fault in the collision. The inquiry is over but a decision is not expected for several weeks.
Dave Usher has gone home to wait for another call,
June 21, 1972
. . . . .
W.K. BIXBY * Built Nov. 15, 1905 Bulk Propeller - Steel
U. S. No. 202875 5712 gt - 4407 nt 480' x 52.2' x 30'
* Renamed, (b) J.L. REISS - US - 1920
Converted to self-unloader, 1933.
(c) SIDNEY E. SMITH, JR. - US - 1972
Sunk in collision with Canadian steamer Parker Evans June 5, 1972, Just below Blue Water Bridge, St. Clair River, no lives lost.
Detroit/Wyandotte Shipbuilding Master List
Institute for Great Lakes Research