Lack of Coast Guard icebreakers disrupts Great Lakes shipping, task force says

A lack of U.S. Coast Guard icebreaking assets has delayed shipments this season on the Great Lakes despite a relatively mild and delayed start to winter in the region, the Great Lakes Marine Task Force said Wednesday.

US-flagged “lakers” making 20 trips, with a total of 750,000 tons of carrying capacity for iron ore, coal and cement, were delayed a total of 325 hours, the group said.

The Great Lakes Marine Task Force, with 74 members, is the largest coalition to speak on behalf of the Great Lakes navigation system.

In one case involving the MV American Century, the vessel was mobbed in the St. Mary’s River even after passing a regulatory check-in point in time to meet the scheduled closure of the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Mary, Michigan. Coast Guard icebreakers were unable to free the ship in time for its scheduled transit through the locks, which connect Lake Superior to Lake Huron. This delayed the descending lockage of the last ships leaving Lake Superior, including the Coast Guard Cutter Biscayne Bay, which left no icebreakers on Lake Superior while the lock was closed.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder, which is normally stationed in Duluth, Minnesota, is on the east coast for an overhaul.

Ice-induced ship delays also forced the Army Corps of Engineers to begin lock dewatering operations a day later than planned.

“The inefficiency introduced into the Great Lakes navigation system by inadequate Coast Guard icebreaking resources is impacting carriers, their customers, and the entire North American manufacturing supply chain,” said said Jim Weakley, president of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force and the Lake Carriers’ Association. . “The men and women of the United States Coast Guard are doing the best they can with the resources provided to them. Unfortunately, they don’t have enough icebreakers to keep the system running smoothly.

Coast Guard icebreaking operations on the Great Lakes, known as Operation Taconite, typically begin Dec. 15, providing icebreaking capabilities a month before the scheduled closing of the Soo Locks on Jan. 15. But this year, the icebreaking operation was delayed until Dec. 29, and according to the task force, the U.S. Coast Guard had four of its nine Great Lakes icebreakers in scheduled overhaul, scheduled maintenance or of unscheduled maintenance, and at one point in January, five of its eight icebreakers operating on the Great Lakes were simultaneously unavailable due to mechanical failures. A total of 68 icebreaking days were lost due to equipment fires or engine failures, the task force said.

“The lives of the professional women and men sailing on Lakers, the safety of vessels and the protection of the environment depend on adequate Coast Guard icebreakers,” said John Clemons, Vice Chairman of the Task Force. shipping on the Great Lakes and with US naval officers, AFL. -THIS). “In recent years, ships have been gutted, beached or collided with each other due to inadequate icebreaking resources.

“The Port of Duluth-Superior is the number one Great Lakes port by tonnage and one of the top twenty in the nation, but the Coast Guard does not consider its waterways ‘Level I’ for icebreaking purposes,” says Deb DeLuca, Executive Director. , Duluth Seaway Port Authority. “This is troubling given that Minnesota’s docks along the western edge of Lake Superior provide the iron ore needed to produce 80% of the country’s primary steel. The Head of the Lakes is a critical link in the North American steel production supply chain.

“Proper icebreaking not only supports the Great Lakes navigation system, it also prevents flooding,” said Eric Peace, vice president of the Lake Carriers’ Associations and experienced sailor. “Last February, we witnessed major flooding due to an ice dam in the St. Clair River. At the time, the only “heavy” icebreaker operated by the Coast Guard was unavailable because it was under repair.

Fiscal reconciliation legislation currently before the US Senate would also provide the Coast Guard with funding for an additional icebreaker in the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, the Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act (S.576 and HR1561) would require the Coast Guard to report to Congress on its plans to improve Great Lakes icebreaking standards and capabilities.

“We need to build an additional icebreaker in the Great Lakes and pass the Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act. Both are needed to establish a railroad, protect landlords, and keep commerce moving. said Peace.