Jefferson County officials are demanding answers from the U.S. Coast Guard after a fuel tanker with “steering problems” was allowed to cross the St. Lawrence Seaway guided by a tug latched to its side.
Neither local emergency response agencies nor county officials were given any warning to prepare them for a potential disaster, said County Legislator Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing.
Mr. Reed said he is now trying to figure out how the Sarah Desgagnes — a 479-foot vessel carrying a full load of gasoline — had been cleared to finish its trip to Sarnia, Ontario, and why no one here was notified.
According to MarineTraffic.com, the vessel, owned by Groupe Desgagnes, Québec City, was last reported to be passing Detroit about 10 a.m. Thursday.
“If it bears out to be true, it would be very disturbing,” he said, especially because it implies the Coast Guard gave a malfunctioning ship the green light to pass the American Narrows, the most difficult part of the Seaway to navigate.
Ronald G. Thomson, owner of Uncle Sam Boat Tours, said he saw the vessel passing Alexandria Bay on Tuesday night with a tug strapped to its port side, about two-thirds of the way up to the ship’s bow.
Groupe Desgagnes company officials, however, said the vessel had indeed experienced some issues related to “wear and tear” but that it was “functional” by the time it was allowed to continue on and that the tug was attached simply as a “precautionary measure.”
The company said the Sarah Desgagnes, which left New York City for Sarnia about two weeks ago, did not do a 360-degree turn after losing control as some witnesses on the St. Lawrence River claimed.
Jennifer J. Caddick, outgoing executive director of Save the River, Clayton, said any number of things could have gone wrong and area officials should have been notified.
She said she confirmed with Seaway officials Thursday morning that the vessel had “steering problems,” but details were scarce as to what exactly went wrong and why the ship had to be tied up at the Iroquois Locks in Massena for a few days.
Seaway officials could not be reached for comment.