The shipping industry on the Great Lakes had a rough holiday season as a result of a massive bomb cyclone that caused a dangerous flash freeze situation. As soon as the winds died down, the lakers were met with stiff ice, which had a significant influence on the crucial late-season raw material deliveries.
Ships were unable to proceed through the western portion of Lake Erie and the Detroit River from the 25th to the 30th of December, 2022. It was very difficult to get into the ports in Ohio and Michigan. Nearly 327,000 tons of American cargo and carrying capacity were held up for a total of 90 hours, which is the same as 13,000 truckloads. This resulted in vessel journeys being lengthened by an average of 10.3 hours.
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Multiple requests for assistance were denied because there were only two icebreakers available in the lower Great Lakes between the United States Coast Guard and the Canadian Coast Guard. One of these requests was for a voyage into Lorain, Ohio, where a tug and barge combination was forced to decouple in order to try and free themselves from the ice.
The only heavy icebreaker, the USCGC MACKINAW, was one of two icebreakers owned by the United States Coast Guard that was undergoing maintenance and therefore unavailable to assist. Another one of the icebreakers experienced an engine failure, and three more from the United States and one from Canada were working feverishly to retrieve navigational markers (buoys) before they were destroyed by the shifting ice sheets.
“Both as a region and as a nation, we need to be better able to withstand the effects of severe weather. A second powerful icebreaker is required for service by the United States Coast Guard on the Great Lakes. Five requests to break through the ice were turned down for the simple reason that there were not enough nautical snowplows available. The Coast Guard needs at least as much capability as the Coast Guard Cutter MACKINAW in order to design and purchase a new icebreaker, and the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022 includes crucial language that will authorize the necessary $350 million to do so. According to Jim Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers’ Association, “that law, which was signed in December, also proposes Great Lakes ice breaking performance standards and calls for a Government Accountability Office study on Great Lakes ice breaking.” “Unfortunately, according to the Coast Guard, it will take eleven years before they can purchase the new icebreaker.”
According to the Great Lakes Seaway Partnership, the delays are primarily due to heavy ice on the lakes, making it difficult for ships to navigate. The ice is also causing damage to the ships, which are having to slow down or even stop to make repairs.
The delays have been affecting a wide range of industries, from iron and steel to agriculture and energy. Companies that rely on shipping goods through the Great Lakes region are facing significant losses as a result of the delays.
The Great Lakes Seaway Partnership is working closely with the shipping industry to minimize the impact of the delays. The partnership is also working with the Coast Guard to ensure that ships are equipped with the necessary safety equipment to navigate through the ice.
Despite these efforts, the delays are expected to continue for the foreseeable future. The National Weather Service has forecasted that the harsh weather conditions will continue for at least the next two weeks, making it difficult for shipping to resume on schedule.
The Great Lakes Seaway Partnership is urging companies and individuals that rely on shipping through the region to plan accordingly and expect delays. The partnership is also reminding everyone to take necessary safety precautions while navigating the icy waters.
In the meantime, the shipping industry and the communities dependent on it are left to hold on and hope for a thaw soon.
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