U.S. Coast Guard icebreaking operations in full gear

U.S. Coast Guard cutters Neah Bay and Morro Bay, 140-foot Bay Class icebreaking tugs homeported in Cleveland, freed multiple vessels beset by ice in western Lake Erie and the St. Clair River January 2-3.

Coast Guard cutters stationed on the Great Lakes support the service’s domestic icebreaking mission through annual operations Taconite and Coal Shovel.

Commerce across Lake Erie is kept moving by U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard cutters providing icebreaking assistance in support of Operation Coal Shovel. Operation Coal Shovel encompasses not only Lake Erie, but also supports waterways in southern Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair/Detroit River system, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes and, as a result, the fastest to freeze. Currently, ice coverage on Lake Erie is over 20 percent, well above the seasonal norm of 5 percent for this time of year. With the shipping season set to end on January 15, Coast Guard cutters will continue to break ice to ensure that waterways stay navigable for cargo ships on the Great Lakes.

U.S. Coast Guard Sector Sault Sainte Marie commenced Operation Taconite December 15 in response to expanded ice growth in the commercial ports of western Lake Superior and the lower St. Marys River. Before ice impedes commercial navigation, icebreakers were assigned to each region.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder was assigned to manage the icebreaking needs of western Lake Superior, specifically the twin ports of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin, as well as the Port of Thunder Bay, Ontario. U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Biscayne Bay was assigned to the St. Marys River. As ice growth expands on the Great Lakes, additional Coast Guard icebreakers will join the operation.

The Coast Guard’s icebreaking mission includes not only facilitation of commercial navigation, but also the provision of icebreaking services for search and rescue, emergency operations and flood mitigation.

Further inquiries can be made by phone to Mark Gill at mark.s.gill@uscg.mil or to Vessel Traffic Service St. Marys River at (906) 635-3232.

Maritime Editorial