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Port of Milwaukee workboat suddenly sinks, cause remains unknown

Posted at 4:36 PM, Feb 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 21:03:51-05

PORT OF MILWAUKEE — One of two workboats in service at the Port of Milwaukee unexpectedly took on water and sank early Monday morning, though the cause of the incident remains elusive, according to Port officials.

Port Director Adam Tindall-Schlicht said during a press conference that the workboat Harbor Seagull began taking on water late Sunday night or early Monday morning, and then sank in the Federal Navigation Channel around 5:30 a.m. No injuries were reported in connection to the sinking.

The cause of the incident remains unknown, Tindall-Schlicht says, but the Port will be investigating once the boat is out of the water.

Harbor Seagull
The Harbor Seagull, before the incident.

The Seagull is the older of the two workboats the Port owns, built over 60 years ago. Tindall-Schlicht explains the Seagull is tasked with clearing ice and removing debris in the harbor. The workboat has a crew of two, built to be used out on the lake year-round.

Efforts to remove the boat from the channel are set to begin Tuesday morning. That consists of a crane planted on a barge lifting the boat out of the water, and draining water from the boat. The Seagull will be brought to land, where Director Tindall-Schlicht says the Port will eventually repair the boat for use.

During the Monday press conference, no environmental issues caused by the incident are known or expected. Tindall-Schlicht adds that they do have the means to detect any pollution or other issues if they begin to occur.

The Coast Guard said in a statement Tuesday that an estimated 120 gallons of diesel was spilled into the waterway. Cleanup efforts of the residential diesel in the water and ice will continue, the Guard said.

Watch the Port's press conference below:

The Port's flagship tugboat, the Joey D, will continue icebreaking efforts in the meantime. That boat was purchased by the Port 10-12 years ago, Tindall-Schlicht says, for about $1 million.

To remove the damaged Harbor Seagull from the waterway, the Port is expected to spend $30-40,000, and a further $200-300,000 to repair the boat. A new tugboat, in contrast, would cost the Port over $1 million, Adam Tindall-Schlicht says.

The Seagull was last worked on about five years ago, when the boat began taking on water, though it did not sink at the time. The Port spent $40,000 on repairs then.

Adam Tindall-Schlicht notes that it would be preferable to have two workboats operational when the international shipping season begins in April, but the Port will make do with its flagship tugboat until the Seagull is back up and running.

Those who need ice to be broken out on the water also have the option of contracting with private providers, the Port director says.

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