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Thick ice has lakers way behind in cargo numbers
Only three coal cargos were loaded on the Great Lakes last month leaving what looks like an uphill battle for the Great Lakes coal trade. Brad Phenow reports.
Coast Guard ice breakers are working hard to get cargo through. Some may say the ice is winning the battle, however neither the lakers nor the ice breakers are willing to give up.
Kenny Pepper is the Lieutenant Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Morro Bay. He says the ice put them out of commission, shearing five of the six bolts on their rudder. But as of Monday morning, the fabricated parts are in to repair their rudder damage.
“Not sure how long the repairs are going to take at this point. As soon as the repairs are complete and the Coast Guard Naval Engineers determine that it’s safe, we will get underway and conduct some testing and get right back into icebreaking.”
Lake Carriers’ Association Vice-President Glen Nekvasil says the three coal cargos loaded last month is a very slow start.
“That was a decrease of 70 percent compared to a year ago, and actually it’s down even more about 80 percent if you compare it to the five year average for March.”
He says the ice is usually out of the equation this time of the year.
“By the middle of March things should be pretty much up to speed. But we have a lot of boats that have not even sailed yet. So this is going to have an impact on the entire year.”
The trek across Lake Superior to the Soo Locks normally takes 30 hours; the single coal cargo that left Lake Superior took nine days. Pepper says before the rudder damage the Morro Bay had to make its way in a convoy across Lake Superior.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. I saw pressure ridges out there that were easily 12 feet high.”
Pepper says they are working hard to get the vessels moving.
“Our job is to facilitate commerce, that’s why we’re funded for ice breaking, that’s why we have these ice breakers. The ice this year is just incredibly challenging, it’s nothing like we have experienced in recent memory.”
Nekvasil says trying to catch up isn’t easy.
“Well it’s not easy to make up lost time in this industry. The ships are already running at their maximum safe speed.”
Nekvasil says iron ore and limestone shipments are also expected to be down.
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