U.S.-flag fleets to keep Great Lakes shipyards busy this winter
Temperatures are dropping, but the pace at Great Lakes shipyards is heating up. Winter is their busiest time and this year is no exception. U.S.-flag Great Lakes vessel operators are going to spend more than $80 million to maintain and modernize their vessels for the 2017 shipping season.
“Once again Lake Carriers’ Association members are demonstrating their commitment to Great Lakes shipping,” said James H.I. Weakley, President of the trade association representing the major U.S.-flag carriers. “As a Department of Homeland Security report has emphasized, many steel mills, power plants and stone quarries do not have viable alternatives for the shipment of their raw materials. If the U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet is not primed to meet the needs of commerce in 2017, industrial activity and hundreds of thousands of family-sustaining jobs would be in jeopardy. This year’s winter work program ensures the vessels will be ready.”
Much of the work to be done this winter is normal maintenance, such as overhauls of engines, cargo hold renewal and replacement of conveyor belts in the unloading systems. Lakers get a real workout during the season. Vessels in the long-haul trades will carry perhaps 50 cargoes. Hulls dedicated to the short-haul trades can easily double that total.
Reducing the industry’s carbon footprint is again a major focus. A 1,000-foot-long U.S.-flag laker will become the fifth vessel to have an exhaust-scrubbing system installed in the past few years. The conversion of a steamship to a diesel-powered vessel will also be completed this winter.
Several lakers will be drydocked so the hulls can be surveyed by the U.S. Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping, as required by U.S. law. Since they operate in a freshwater environment, lakers need only be drydocked every five to six years, whereas vessels in the ocean (saltwater) trades are required to be drydocked twice in a five-year period.
The benign Lakes environment allows for long careers. Two vessels, the Mesabi Miner and the Walter J. Mccarthy, Jr., will mark their 40th year of operation in 2017. During those four decades of service those vessels have collectively carried approximately 220 million tons of iron ore and coal.
The oldest vessel expected to see service in 2017, the cement barge St. Marys Challenger, will mark her 111th season on the “inland seas.” That vessel has carried more than 100 million tons of several types of cargo since being launched as the ore carrier William P. Snyder in 1906.
The major shipyards on the Lakes are located in Sturgeon Bay, Superior and Marinette, Wisconsin; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Toledo, Ohio. Smaller “topside” repair operations are located in Cleveland, Ohio; Escanaba, Michigan; Buffalo, New York; and several cities in Michigan. The industry’s annual payroll for its 2,700 employees approaches $125 million and it is estimated that a wintering vessel generates an additional $800,000 in economic activity in the community in which it is moored.
Great Lakes shipyards continually upgrade their facilities to serve the fleet. For example, Fraser Shipyards in Superior, Wisconsin added an additional 880 feet of dock and berthing space in 2016.