Civil Suit seeks compensation after ship causes Damages in the Straits of Mackinac

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LANSING, MI – After notifying the company earlier this week, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed a civil suit against Van Enkevort Tug and Barge, Inc., whose ship dragged an anchor across the Straits of Mackinac. The anchor hit the submerged electric and petroleum pipelines, causing the release of a hazardous substance and potentially harming aquatic life and the lakebed.VTBlogo

The suit was filed in Ingham County Circuit Court on April 19, 2018.

Working with investigators from the Department of Environmental Equality and Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Attorney General was able to determine the Van Enkevort-owned ship was passing through the Straits at the time the damage was caused to the ATC Cables and Enbridge Line 5 pipelines.

“This incident raises red flags as to how an anchor drag like this could happen.  We must hold VanEnkevort responsible for the clear violations of state law,” said Schuette. “Protecting the safety and security of the Great Lakes must continue to be our top priority so we can ensure an incident like this does not happen again.”  

The civil suit is being brought to enforce the water resources protection portion of the Michigan Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA), which forbids the direct or indirect discharge of substances into water that are potentially damaging to, among other things, fish and other aquatic life. Each discharge is punishable by a civil fine of up to $25,000 per day of violation, as well as damages for harm to natural resources, surveillance and enforcement costs, attorney’s fees and court costs.

The suit seeks to obtain the following relief:

  • Require Van Enkevort to implement protective measures to ensure this sort of event does not happen again
    • The protective measures include but are not limited to installing specific safety equipment on its vessels and training its employees.
  • Require the company to pay a civil fine for causing the release of hazardous fluid into the Straits of Mackinac;
  • Require the company to compensate the public for potential damages related to Van Enkevort’s violations of statute and common law; and
  • Repay the costs of inspection, surveillance, and enforcement incurred by the state, in addition to attorney fees and court costs.

This civil action against Van Enkevort only applies to state civil violations, and does not address any federal law claims, or any criminal culpability or liability of any individuals who may be responsible for the anchor deployment or maintenance.

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