Winter Work

December 28, 2012 LCA


Maintaining and Modernizing U.S.-Flag Great Lakes Fleet Will Make For Another Busy Winter for Region’s Shipyards

CLEVELAND — As the Great Lakes shipping season enters its final weeks, shipyards and repair facilities throughout the region are gearing up for another busy winter maintaining and modernizing the U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet. It is projected that U.S.-flag lakers will move more than 90 million tons of cargo in 2012, so there will be lots of work to do to ensure the industry can meet the needs of commerce again in 2013. The various projects scheduled for the next few months will require investments that range from $500,000 to almost $3 million per vessel.

Great Lakes shipping is a 24/7 industry, so every effort is made to keep the vessels operating continuously during the shipping season beginning in early March and going through mid-January. Two vessels have already undergone their scheduled maintenance, but once the locks at Sault St. Marie, Michigan, close on January 15, the winter work program will begin in earnest.

Iron ore for steel production is the primary cargo moved by U.S-flag lakers, and some of the steel made from those taconite pellets will end up back in the vessel that carried the iron ore from the mines to the mills. A number of vessels will have steel renewed in their hulls and cargo holds over the winter.

U.S. law requires that lakers be dry-docked at regularly scheduled intervals so the U.S. Coast Guard can inspect the hull from the exterior. Concrete blocks are positioned in the drydock to support the vessel once the chamber has been pumped out. Several vessels will undergo their out-of-water survey this coming winter.

Waterborne commerce is widely acknowledged to be the greenest mode of transportation. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report notes that a cargo of 1,000 tons transported by a Great Lakes freighter produces 90 percent less carbon dioxide as compared to the same cargo transported by truck and 70 percent less if moved by rail. U.S.-flag lakers will further reduce their emissions by upgrading a number of diesel generators, and a tug that pushes a self-unloading barge will be completely repowered with a state-of-the-art diesel engine.

Other projects include upgrades to navigation equipment and galleys.

This winter is the first that Great Lakes shipyards will work on two new lakers. The tug/barge unit KEN BOOTHE SR./LAKES CONTENDER was christened in May of this year. A tug/barge unit that had previously worked the Gulf was renamed the DEFIANCE/ASHTABULA and entered service in October after being modified for Lakes operations.

The major shipyards on the Lakes are located in Sturgeon Bay and Superior, Wisconsin; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Toledo, Ohio. Smaller “top-side” repair operations are located in Cleveland, Ohio; Escanaba, Michigan; Buffalo, New York; and several cities in Michigan. Employment peaks at about 1,200 during the winter and annual wages top $50 million.

In addition, it is estimated that $800,000 in economic activity is generated per vessel in the community in which it is wintering.

Lake Carriers’ Association represents 17 American companies that operate 57 U.S.-flag vessels on the Great Lakes and carry the raw materials that drive the nation’s economy: iron ore and fluxstone for the steel industry, aggregate and cement for the construction industry, coal for power generation, as well as salt, sand and grain. Collectively, these vessels can transport more than 115 million tons of cargo per year. These cargos generate more than 103,000 jobs with an average wage of $47,000 in the Great Lakes states and have a total economic impact of $20 billion. More information is available at

Source: Lake Carriers’ Association.

Contact: Glen G. Nekvasil, Vice President (440-333-9996).

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