Lakes fleet undergoing $97 million in off-season work

The following is text of a news release from the Lake Carriers' Association:

(CLEVELAND) — More than $97 million in maintenance and modernization is underway on U.S.-flag "lakers" idled for winter work at multiple Great Lakes shipyards.

After working around the clock for 10 months hauling cargo over more than 70,000 miles per vessel, the ships and their crews are given a brief rest to recoup before the next season starts in March.

The investment U.S. shipping companies put into these freshwater vessels will grow the workforce at shipyards across the Great Lakes. More than 1,000 engineers, welders, pipefitters, mechanics and electricians will work tirelessly on the ships over the next two months to ensure they are ready to sail as soon as the Soo Locks open on March 25. Major shipyards are located in Superior, Wis., Sturgeon Bay, Wis., Toledo, Ohio, and Erie, Pa., with other work being done in Toledo and Ashtabula, Ohio, as well as Milwaukee, Wis., Detroit, Mich., and Ludington, Mich.

Winter work includes the steel renewal, installation of advanced electronic navigation systems, and replacement of safety equipment such as lifeboats. The self-unloading capability on lakers is unique and the equipment requires maintenance to ensure the vessels can continue to unload up to 75,000 tons of cargo in less than 12 hours, one of the reasons why U.S.-flag lakers are the most efficient mode of dry-bulk cargo transportation in the world.

The work is carefully orchestrated to get as much done as possible while ensuring the U.S.-flag fleet is ready to sail. It will be in high demand come March after stockpiles of raw materials are running low and customers require resupply immediately to maintain operations and keep people employed.

When the lakers come out of maintenance there is no idle time. Crews arrive, warm up the engines and get to work moving vital cargo. Every day in a 10-month shipping season is critical, hence the investment in maintenance and modernization now while the Soo Locks are closed.

By Professional Mariner Staff