Lawsuit targets salties, invasives

The National Wildlife Federation on Thursday announced its intent to sue nine owners of oceangoing ships that enter the Great Lakes to force the ships to treat ballast water to kill invasive species.

The National Wildlife Federation on Thursday announced its intent to sue nine owners of oceangoing ships that enter the Great Lakes to force the ships to treat ballast water to kill invasive species.

Oceangoing ships are blamed for bringing many invasive species into the U.S., from zebra mussels and ruffe to VHS, the virus that's now killing fish from New York to Wisconsin lakes.

Invasive species in the Great Lakes displace native species and cost $5 billion a year in lost resources and cleanup costs, according to a 2005 estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Environmental, conservation and angler groups claimed Thursday that the oceangoing ships are causing far more economic and ecological damage than the economic benefit they bring.

"Enough is enough," said Andy Buchsbaum, Great Lakes director of the National Wildlife Federation. "It's time to end the onslaught of invasive species from ballast water.''


The suit will be filed in federal district court after a mandatory 60-day waiting period.

Across the Great Lakes, salties comprise less than 10 percent of all shipping traffic. But some of that cargo is among the most valuable on the lakes.

The Seaway Port Authority of Duluth reports that salties made up only 137 of 1,187 ship visits last year, about

12 percent, but account for more than 30 percent of total value moved through the port, especially grain shipments. Port officials say new regulations could force saltie traffic to avoid the Great Lakes, resulting in a loss of money and jobs.

The lawsuit notice names carriers Fednav Limited, Lake Superior Inc., Lake Huron Inc., Anglo-Eastern Ship Management Ltd., Isadora Shipping Ltd., Isolda Shipping Ltd., Ziemia Two Ltd., Ziemia Three Ltd., Polsteam, Pot Scheepvaart B.V., Victoriaborg B.V., C.V. Scheepvaatondernerning Virginiaborg and Wagenborg Shipping B.V.

The lawsuit notice claims that FedNav ships Federal Rhine and Federal Saguenay discharged ballast in the Duluth-Superior harbor, among other ports, on several occasions from 2003 to 2006 and that those discharges were illegal under existing federal law.

The suit seeks treatment by one of four technologies, including chlorine dioxide, ultraviolet light, deoxygenation or sodium hypochlorite, the chemical used by many water and sewage treatment plants to kill organisms in the ballast tanks. The groups estimate it will cost $250,000 to $500,000 per ship.

Ballast is water held inside the ship to help keep it balanced while loading and unloading and in rough seas without cargo.


Partners in the suit with the National Wildlife Federation include the Alliance for the Great Lakes, Indiana Wildlife Federation, League of Ohio Sportsmen, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Minnesota Conservation Federation, Prairie Rivers Network and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

Officials from Canadian-based FedNav were reviewing a reporter's questions Thursday but said they would not have a response to the issue until today.



The lawsuit follows demands this year by many environmental, sporting and conservation groups for a moratorium on oceangoing ships into the Great Lakes until salties are retrofitted with technology to treat ballast water.

Several bills have been introduced in Congress to require ballast treatment but, so far, none have passed into law despite promises from Great Lakes lawmakers.

"We're not trying to shut down shipping in the Great Lakes," Buchsbaum said. "We're trying to get these guys to comply with the Clean Water Act.''

A 2005 federal court decision has ordered the EPA to begin applying the federal Clean Water Act to ships, but not until October 2008. The EPA is appealing the decision. The Clean Water Act already includes biological pollution -- including living organisms -- as pollution.


National Wildlife Federation officials say they can't wait for another devastating species to hitchhike into the lakes.

"We can't afford another zebra mussel invasion while EPA dabbles and Congress debates,'' Buchsbaum said.

There are at least 185 invasive species in the Great Lakes, nearly 100 of which are in Lake Superior. One new non-native species is discovered on average once every 28 weeks. More than 60 percent of all non-native invaders -- 54 of 85 -- discovered in the Great Lakes since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, are likely due to ballast water discharge from ocean-going vessels, researchers have said.

The rapid spread of viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) across the Great Lakes over the past two years has anglers, state officials and environmental groups more concerned about invasive species.

The disease already has killed nearly 40 species of fish in the eastern Great Lakes and has moved as far west as Lake Michigan. It also has spread to inland lakes in eastern states and to Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin.

"The damage from non-native species continues to mount, and the shipping industry has failed to clean up its act,'' said Gary Botzek, director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation. "For the millions of people who have seen their beaches fouled, fish killed and utility bills increased due to invasive species, legal action cannot come soon enough.''

John Myers covers the environment for the News Tribune. He can be reached at (218) 723-5344 or (800) 456-8282, or by e-mail at .

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
What To Read Next
Get Local