Leaking Lake Erie Shipwreck Discovered

Ohio Sea Grant’s take on the wreck of the Argo

Argo Shipwreck 2015

(U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Station Marblehead)

What was discovered?

A shipwreck was discovered via side scan sonar on August 28, 2015 by Tom Kowalczk from Cleveland Underwater Explorers. The measurements and general location of the wreck appear to match the Argo, a barge which sank October 20, 1937.

While further exploring the wreck October 23, 2015, Kowalczk noticed oily droplets on the surface of the water and a smell of solvent. An overflight by the Coast Guard Air Station Detroit on October 24, observed a 400-yard discoloration on the water, but a second flight on October 25 was unable to locate any discoloration.

What is leaking? Is it hazardous to humans?

Exactly what is leaking is unknown at this point, but the Argo was believed to have been carrying 4,762 barrels (over 200,000 gallons) – half benzol (a coal-tar product containing benzene and toluene) and half crude oil.

The Coast Guard has set up a regulatory safe zone, meaning boats are not to enter the area, with a 1,000 foot radius around the location of the wreck, primarily to avoid human exposure to any fumes. The coordinates of the zone are broadcast continuously on marine radio.

Did the government know about the ship’s existence and make a plan for what to do if it leaked?

NOAA knew of the wreck of the Argo and that due to its cargo, it was a risk for leaking oil. The Argo was identified as the shipwreck with the greatest pollution potential in the Great Lakes region. A March 2013 report, written when the exact location of the wreck was still unknown, recommended use of surveys to attempt to locate the vessel, along with ongoing outreach efforts with the local dive community and fishermen so officials would be made aware of any changes in the site.

Does the leak pose a threat to drinking water or wildlife?

Coast Guard officials told the Toledo Blade that, as of October 26, 2015, the leak poses no threat to drinking-water supplies or to nearby aquatic life.

What steps are being taken to secure the leak and mitigate any harm to the environment?

The Coast Guard is overseeing an effort to identify and secure the leak, and is taking steps to ensure the safety of responders within the regulatory safety zone.

“The U.S. Coast Guard deals with pollution response in the maritime environment all over the country,” says Ohio Sea Grant’s Sarah Orlando, Ohio Clean Marinas program manager. “They know what to do in this type of situation.”

Where can I learn more about Lake Erie shipwrecks?

Lake Erie is home to a number of shipwrecks, many with historical significance. Ohio Sea Grant Extension Educator Joe Lucente helps run the website Shipwrecks & Maritime Tales of the Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail at ohioshipwrecks.org, which has detailed information on the history of wrecks, including maps of confirmed wrecks.

“This just goes to show how many shipwrecks – even near-shore wrecks – there are that we don’t know about,” Lucente says. “Without groups like Cleveland Underwater Explorers giving their time, money and resources, we wouldn’t know about them.”

CLUE donated many of the pictures featured at ohioshipwrecks.org, Lucente says (in a downloadable full-color brochure featuring maps and history of 28 Lake Erie shipwrecks).

For a list of additional resources and the complete article originally published on October 27, 2015, go to: go.osu.edu/argoleak.

Ohio State University’s Ohio Sea Grant Program is part of NOAA Sea Grant, a network of 33 Sea Grant programs dedicated to the protection and sustainable use of marine and Great Lakes resources. For more information, visit ohioseagrant.osu.edu.

(Submitted by Joe Lucente, Assistant Professor and Extension Educator, Ohio Sea Grant Program)