Meet the man whose team protects the Great Lakes

Multiple screens and a man in front of a screen Former U.S. Coast Guard Captain Mike Davanzo took the helm of the Enbridge Straits Maritime Operations Center (ESMOC) in May 2021.

Enbridge Straits Maritime Operations Center (ESMOC) guards the Straits 24 hours a day

Dec. 8, 2021

He sailed on waterways stretching from the Great Barrier Reef near Australia to the Puget Sound near Seattle and beyond.

Now, the 61-year-old former U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) officer has returned to Michigan, bringing his keen eye and 44 years of experience to protecting the Straits.

For retired USCG Captain Mike Davanzo, taking the helm of the Enbridge Straits Maritime Operations Center (ESMOC) in May 2021 was a bit of a homecoming.

“I wasn’t looking for an opportunity, but the timing was great,” said the New York City native and former Michigan resident. “I spent 12 years in the Great Lakes region, eight of them on ships. We—my family and I—really fell in love with the area.”

After four decades in the USCG, Davanzo and his wife were looking to join their son and grandchild on a family farm in northwest Tennessee when he received a phone call from Enbridge.

“It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, because it fit in so well with my experience and love of the Great Lakes,” continued Davanzo.

In addition to his experience in the Straits, Davanzo believes his work with ship captains (commonly called “salties”), pilots and the Lake Carriers’ Association makes him a natural fit to guide the ESMOC team.

A steady hand at the helm of the ESMOC

The former U.S. Coast Guard Captain most recently served as commanding officer of the USCG Cutter Polar Star, an ice-breaking vessel that can cut through four feet of ice to maintain safe travel paths.

Even for the USCG veteran accustomed to worldwide waterway monitoring and operations centers, though, the ESMOC is impressive. 

“My initial reaction was that ESMOC looks and feels like a Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) operation,” said Davanzo.  “No one has as many layers of protection for a pipeline as we do at ESMOC.”

The ESMOC has one mission in mind: monitor the Straits in order to prevent an anchor strike to the Line 5 dual pipelines, which lie west of the Mackinac Bridge along the lakebed. Enbridge is planning to put Line 5 in a tunnel under the Straits, reducing chance of an anchor strike or a release to nearly zero. The ESMOC has some of the most sophisticated marine monitoring equipment in the world, all poised to prevent a pipeline strike.

Coast Guard cutter at port

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, on which Mike Davanzo served as commanding officer. The Polar Star is an ice-breaking vessel that can cut through four feet of ice to maintain safe travel paths.

High-tech marine monitoring via multiple levels

Opened in 2020, ESMOC is part of Enbridge’s commitment to continuing to transport safely through Line 5 the light crude oil and natural gas liquids (NGL) on which a five-state region depends.

Staffed around the clock, ESMOC serves as the nerve center for a suite of waterway safety systems Enbridge put in place to help prevent an anchor strike on the dual pipelines in the Straits. ESMOC coordinates multiple safety measures, including:

  • An alert system that identifies approaching vessels at the Straits and issues a safety notification of the “no anchor zone.”
  • Radio contact to vessels to confirm anchor position, as needed.
  • High-definition cameras at each end of the Straits.
  • Monitoring tools for tracking wind speed and wave heights in the Straits.

Vigilance is ongoing

While Davanzo looks forward to optimizing the technologically advanced ESMOC to keep Line 5 operating safely in the Straits, he also is pleased to see the public and area first responders and agencies already reaping the benefits of ESMOC’s resources.

He cited how ESMOC has assisted area first responders twice with waterway searches and supported a USCG effort in the Straits in 2021.

Having served as Chief Afloat Training and Readiness Branch at FORCECOM, dedicated to leadership, training and assessment, Davanzo is accustomed to preparedness in a variety of settings. He views his position at ESMOC as a natural extension to waterway protection.

“I am a passionate outdoorsman who has a deep connection to the water and the Straits,” said Davanzo.

“I like risk assessment and determining the next steps that will contribute to keeping the communities and waterways safe. Ensuring that pathways are clear to accept vessel traffic and prevent anchor strikes is an extension of that commitment.”

Davanzo’s commitment to protecting communities and waterways is one he proudly shares with his relatively new colleagues: “What makes the USCG great is the people, and I feel the same about the people at Enbridge. They have the same passion and commitment—that’s the reason I am here in Michigan. I want to work with them to protect the waters of the Great Lakes and the people who use them.”

Davanzo’s passion is noticed by his leader.

“Mike’s background suits ESMOC perfectly,” said Bob Lehto, Enbridge’s operations manager for the northern Michigan area. “He brings a unique blend of preparedness and operational experience to the team, which is critical to our commitment to protecting the Straits.”

When ships sail under the Mackinac Bridge, they’ll be doing it with the watchful eye of Davanzo and his team members who staff the ESMOC around the clock—all in the name of safety.