U.S.-flag Lakes fleets investing $110 million in vessels

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

(CLEVELAND) — U.S.-flag vessel operators on the Great Lakes have committed more than $110 million to maintain and modernize their vessels in 2016. Maintenance and repair work typical of the winter lay-up period will cost approximately $60 million. Projects that involve repowering vessels or installing exhaust gas scrubbers will cost upward of $50 million.

“This level of investment is a testimony to my members’ commitment to Great Lakes shipping,” said James H.I. Weakley, president of Lake Carriers’ Association, the trade association representing U.S.-flag vessel operators on the Lakes. “The dumping of foreign steel into the U.S. market has severely impacted cargo movement during the final months of 2015. Six of the most efficient vessels in the fleet were withdrawn from service in November because of steel dumping. Still, my members are moving forward with projects that will keep their vessels safe and efficient and further reduce their already small carbon footprint.”

Great Lakes shipping is a 24/7 business. The vessels stop only long enough to load or discharge cargo. As a result, the winter lay-up is the prime time to tune up the vessels for the coming campaign. Massive power plants, some capable of generating nearly 20,000 horsepower, will be carefully serviced. The conveyor systems that are key to self-unloading vessels will be inspected and any worn belts replaced. Navigation, firefighting and lifesaving equipment will be checked over and replaced or upgraded as needed.

Several vessels will be dry-docked as required by law to allow U.S. Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping representatives to inspect the hull below the waterline. 

Two U.S.-flag steamships, John G. Munson and Herbert C. Jackson, will be repowered with state-of-the-art diesel engines. Both vessels have been in service on the Lakes since the 1950s. The Lakes freshwater environment allows vessel operators to continually reinvest in their vessels rather than bear the expense of newbuilds. A U.S. Maritime Administration report has noted that repowering a Great Lakes freighter typically achieves 80 percent of the efficiencies of a newbuild at 20 percent of the cost.

In addition to these repowerings, James R. Barker and Lee A. Tregurtha will be fitted with exhaust gas scrubbers.

The major shipyards on the Lakes are located in Sturgeon Bay, Superior and Marinette, Wis.; Erie, Pa.; and Toledo, Ohio.  Smaller “top-side” repair operations are located in Cleveland, Ohio; Escanaba, Mich.; Buffalo, N.Y.; and several cities in Michigan. The industry’s annual payroll for its 2,700 employees approaches $125 million and it is estimated that a wintering vessel generates an additional $800,000 in economic activity in the community in which it is moored.

The Lake Carriers’ Association represents 15 American companies that operate 56 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 100 million tons of cargo per year.  More information is available at www.lcaships.com. 

By Professional Mariner Staff