U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet will get $65 million tune-up this winter

U.S.-flag Great Lakes vessel operators will spend $65 million maintaining and modernizing their vessels at Great Lakes shipyards this winter. When complete, the fleet will be ready to meet the needs of commerce come the spring break-out in March.

“Winter is the one opportunity our members have to renew and upgrade their vessels,” said James H.I. Weakley, President of Lake Carriers’ Association. “They have just 10 months to deliver their customers’ annual raw materials requirement, so the vessels are in service 24/7 during the shipping season.”

The major focus this winter will be on normal maintenance, such as overhauls of engines, cargo hold renewal and replacement of conveyor belts in the unloading systems. Depending on the trades it serves, a Great Lakes freighter can carry anywhere from 50 to 100 cargoes in a season. A few vessels in the Cuyahoga River iron ore shuttle in Cleveland, Ohio can carry even more cargoes in a season.

  • A steamship is having its boiler completely rebuilt. A 1,000-foot-long laker will have highly efficient Rolls Royce propeller blades installed that will reduce fuel consumption and increase speed.
  • The industry’s carbon footprint will again shrink when a 1,000-foot-long U.S.-flag laker becomes the sixth vessel to have an exhaust gas scrubber installed in the past few years.
  • Ten lakers will be placed in drydock to allow the U.S. Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping to inspect the hulls. These inspections are required by U.S. law.

The Lakes freshwater environment means vessels can serve the economy for decade upon decade. Two of the 1,000-footers will begin their 40th year of operation in 2018.

The major shipyards on the Lakes are located in Sturgeon Bay, Superior and Marinette, Wisconsin; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Toledo, Ohio. Smaller “top-side” repair operations are located in Cleveland, Ohio; Escanaba, Michigan; Buffalo, New York; and several other 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.

Maritime Editorial