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Posted: April 10, 2015

Fleet pays high price for thick Lakes ice


More icebreakers needed to meet needs of commerce

The following is excerpted from articles released April 9 and 10 by the Lake Carriers' Association.

CLEVELAND - Cargo movement in U.S.-flagged Great Lakes freighters in March fell to its lowest level since 2009. Shipments totaled only 825,000 tons, a decrease of more than 60 percent compared to the month's five-year average. Another brutal winter, coupled with a number of casualties to U.S. and Canadian icebreakers, slowed the resumption of navigation.

A number of vessels delayed their fit-out because of the heavy ice. Only 26 U.S.-flagged lakers were in service on April 1. In some years, nearly 50 hulls are underway by that date.

Iron ore felt the brunt of the delays. Loadings totaled just 535,000 tons, a decrease of 66 percent compared to the month's five-year average.

Lake Carriers' Association President James Weakley noted that, with foreign steel imports again reducing operating rates at American mills to perilous levels, it is even more critical that raw materials move as efficiently as possible. "Right now American steel mills need every competitive advantage they can get. A slow start to resupplying the mills after the winter closure is a worry the industry could do without. This is just another clear indication that the Lakes need, at a minimum, another heavy icebreaker to pair with the Mackinaw, and another 140-foot-long icebreaking tug to cover for the one that has been sent to the Coast Guard yard in Baltimore for service life extension."

This is the second year in a row a harsh winter has stalled the new shipping season.