American shipping companies operating the U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet will invest nearly $87 million at shipyards and facilities across the region this year, according to new figures released by the Lake Carriers’ Association.
The work includes replacing steel plating, engine overhauls, navigation equipment updates, and conveyor belt repairs and replacements. Of the $87 million, $36 million will be spent in Wisconsin, $33 million in Ohio, $13 million in Pennsylvania, and over $4 million in Michigan.
Conveyor belt work, in particular, is critical as the U.S. Great Lakes fleet of ships have the unique ability to unload massive amounts of bulk cargo without shoreside assistance. The self-unloading technology allows a 1,000-foot ship to unload up to 70,000 tons of cargo in just eight hours.
“A ship can arrive in the middle of the night with cargo at any number of Great Lakes port facilities, unload before sunrise, and shoreside workers awake to a huge stockpile of raw material critical to their operations positioned perfectly on the dock,” said Jim Weakley, President of Lake Carriers’ Association.
Annual maintenance work to the U.S. flag “laker” fleet allows ships that are 40 and 50 years old, or even older, to continue to sail the Great Lakes. The Lake Carriers’ Association notes that this work is performed by Great Lakes shipyards paid for by the U.S. owned, U.S. operated and U.S. crewed vessel operators.
“The freshwater of the Great Lakes allows vessels to sail for decades while ocean carriers must completely replace their vessels frequently due to the corrosive nature of saltwater and a system built around disposal and replacement over maintenance, unlike the Great Lakes fleet,” the association said.
Despite challenges from the pandemic, the Great Lakes saw a strong 2020 navigation season with overall tonnage down only slightly compared to 2019 (including both American and Canadian ports). Last year’s season, which is marked by the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, ran from on April 1, 2020 to its closing December 31, 2020. However, ships can continue to trade between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes until the Soo Locks are closed typically a few weeks later once winter ice sets in. This year, the Soo Locks close January 15 and they are not expected to open again until March 25.
Sign up for our newsletter