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Public records request from Detroit News finds freighters lose propulsion, steering, or power an average of 20 times per year.

MICHIGAN ––  After the devastating collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Michiganders are not ruling out a similar tragedy in the Great Lakes. After obtaining a public records request from the U.S. Coast Guard, a new report in the Detroit News discovered that Great Lakes freighters lost control or power more than 200 times between 2012 and May 2022, and crashed with stationary objects more than 60 times over the same decade. While the News notes that a freighter crash similar to the Key Bridge tragedy is unlikely with the Mackinac Bridge, there is a profound risk of damaging Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

“We’re extremely lucky that a disaster similar to the tragedy in Baltimore hasn’t yet happened in the Straits of Mackinac,” said Sean McBrearty, Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign coordinator and Clean Water Action Michigan State Director. “The Coast Guard should be transparent with the public about the potential disasters that might happen in this crucial shipping lane, and government agencies must step up their oversight authority for Line 5.”

On April 1, 2018, a tugboat’s anchor struck and damaged Line 5 in the Straits. With more than three miles of the pipeline elevated in the water column by Enbridge-installed supports in a system that’s never been properly evaluated, the prospect of a major oil spill in the drinking water for 40 million is even more harrowing. More recently, in 2020, an Enbridge contracted vessel damaged supports for Line 5, severely damaging one leg of the pipeline and leading an Ingham County Judge to grant a Temporary Restraining Order shutting down half of Line 5 in the Straits for two months.

The Coast Guard designated the Straits as a "no anchor zone" after the 2018 anchor strike, but the shoreline residents who would be in the direct line of an oil spill still face risks to property damage, compromised drinking water, and communities like Mackinac Island being trapped. While Enbridge says they monitor the Straits, an Enbridge maintenance vehicle crashed into the Mackinac Bridge, injuring four in 2021.

“Ships deploy anchors when in trouble - it’s just what they do. In fact, before the tragic crash into Key Bridge in Baltimore, the Dali dropped anchor in a no-anchor zone. The risk of anchor strike is far more pronounced than Enbridge wants us to believe,” McBrearty continued. “And we’re only discovering this information three years later when the Coast Guard finally released this data. The public deserves answers because the fate of our entire state depends on it.”

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The Oil & Water Don't Mix coalition was formed to address the threat to the Great Lakes from the aged, dangerous Line 5 pipeline and associated proposed tunnel project. Together, we saw a need to organize on behalf of Michiganders and all those that value and use the Great Lakes - for our freshwater future, not fossil fuel profit.