New Great Lakes icebreaker moves closer to reality

Tom Curelli

A second heavy icebreaker for service on the Great Lakes has moved closer toward reality with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) including $2 million for initial survey and design work, the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF) said in a Tuesday announcement.

Supporters are seeking a vessel that is at least as capable as the current Mackinaw. The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 had previously authorized a new heavy icebreaker. Baldwin’s provision would provide the first funds specifically targeted toward acquisition of a second heavy icebreaker to partner with the decade-old Mackinaw.

“We applaud Sen. Baldwin for her ongoing efforts to enhance the Coast Guard’s icebreaking capacity on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway,” said Thomas Curelli, president of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF), the largest labor/management coalition ever assembled to promote waterborne commerce on the Great Lakes.  “The winters of 2014 and 2015 were so severe that jobs and business revenue lost totaled 5,800 and $1.1 billion respectively,” noted Curelli, who is also Vice President of Engineering for Fraser Shipyards.

“I am proud to partner with the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force and its members on this critically important effort,” Sen. Baldwin said in a news release.  “It is an honor to fight for investments that keep our Great Lakes economy open for business all year round so maritime commerce and workers can move American goods to market.”

Cargos that move during ice months can top 20 million tons, or 15-plus percent of the Lakes/Seaway’s annual total. 

The U.S. Coast Guard has nine icebreakers assigned to the Great Lakes, but one is undergoing modernization at the Coast Guard yard in Baltimore, Maryland.  When it is ready, it will return to the Great Lakes and another vessel of its class will undergo service life extension until all of the six 140-foot-long icebreaking tugs have been modernized.

Canada has two icebreakers permanently stationed on the Lakes and brings in other assets when required.