Port Authority: Ice Breakers to Lead First Ships Across Lake Superior

Updated: 03/21/2014 6:56 PM
Created: 03/21/2014 6:41 PM
By: Alan Hoglund

A tough task is ahead for ships expected to leave the Harbor this weekend. For the first time in several decades, the Duluth Seaway Port Authority says ice breakers will have to lead them across Lake Superior in a convoy. 

Satellite images from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show ice coverage on the lake at 90 percent this week. That number is down from about 95 percent when ice coverage peaked earlier this year.

Some of the ice is several feel thick, according to Jim Sharrow, the Port Authority facilities manager. "Those are heavy ice conditions you need a heavy ice breaker to help and assist those ships if they get stuck...the last time I remember having to convoy ships...across the lake was back in 1979."

When ice starts begins to melt, Port Authority Executive Director Vanta Coda said ships will have to make up lost time. "The benefit of the ice is that we get higher water levels and they will try to load heavier to their maximum capabilities. They will try to turn those ships quicker. By turn, I mean leave Duluth, go to Chicago and get back as quick as possible."

The locks at Sault Ste. Marie open just after midnight early Tuesday morning. But the Port Authority says, because of the ice conditions, several fleets won't be out on the water for the first time until early April.

Sharrow said there are nine US vessels breaking ice on the Great Lakes. He said two more from Canada are on the way.

Click here to see a schedule of shipping traffic

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