The first U.S.-flag commercial vessel will transit the locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan on Wednesday, kicking off the start of the 2020 sailing season.
So-called “lakers” carry raw materials that are vital for driving the U.S. economy, including iron ore for steel, stone and cement for construction, grain, coal, sand, and salt.
This year, however, the industry faces added headwinds from the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, the Lake Carriers’ Association, which represents U.S.-flag shipping interests in region, is urging federal and state government to ensure maritime-releated workers on included the lists of essential services.
“These cargos are essential to ensuring we can all weather the COVID-19 storm,” said the Lake Carriers’ Association said in a statement. “Federal and state governments recognize the critical importance of Great Lakes shipping by including the sailors, dock workers, and other key support personnel on the list of workers essential to the U.S. and Great Lakes economy.
Speaking to the safety of workers, Jim Weakley, President of the Lakes Carriers’ Association, said the industry has been working with government agencies to ensure the safety of the men and women sailing aboard U.S.-flag vessels.
“Since February, a tremendous team focus has gone into getting the fleet outfitted and sailing safely with healthy crews. This has been a truly concerted effort by the sailors, the vessel operators, U.S. Coast Guard, Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, public health officials, the Great Lakes dock and port operators, and service providers that keep our fleet sailing. Our first priority is the men and women sailing the vessels. Our efforts are focused on preparedness, prevention, and response to ensure their safety from the impacts of COVID-19. We’ve tried to anticipate as many contingencies as possible and prescribe the actions to counter them. This is a community effort and the partnerships we have forged are strong. The best plans are comprehensive and nimble,” Jim Weakley said.
“To keep the U.S.-flag fleet of lakers sailing, our crews are away from their families for weeks at a time. This is a difficult time to be separated from your family, but the men and women of the U.S.-flag fleet accept the challenge and know the vital role they play in keeping the rest of America working,” Weakley added. “We also thank the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard who facilitate our voyages by breaking ice and setting buoys. We recognize their need for additional resources and their sacrifice.”