Lakers blame ice for low coal volume
U.S.-flag vessels operators on the Great Lakes blamed heavy ice more than the slumping economy for the lackluster transport of coal in March.
According to the Cleveland-based Lake Carriers' Association, only three coal cargoes, or 116,259 tons, moved on the Great Lakes in March, the lowest volume during this month in more than a decade.
While some U.S.-flag Lakers have ice-strenghtened bows, the vessels need icebreaking assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard. The ice formations in March were significant and vessel operators were concerned there would be a repeat of the opening of the 2008 season when ice-related damages to vessels totaled more than $1.3 million.
The Coast Guard operates one new icebreaker, the Mackinaw, on the Great Lakes. The agency's five other Great Lakes icebreakers were built in the 1970s and are frequently prone to breakdowns.
Furthermore, Canada has significantly downsized its icebreaking fleet on the lakes. In the early 1980s, Canada had seven icebreakers stationed on the Great Lakes. Now the fleet is down to two vessels.
'A vessel operator will not send a freighter that cost tens of millions of dollars into heavy ice when there is no assurance that icebreaking assets will be able to maintain the shipping lanes and respond in a timely manner to a vessel beset in ice,' said James H.I. Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers' Association, in a statement.
The association, which represents 18 American corporations that operate 64 U.S.-flag Great Lakes vessels, backs recent legislation proposed by Rep. James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to build a sister ship to the new Mackinaw icebreaker.