St. Lawrence Seaway/Great Lakes Shipping Season Commences
The St. Lawrence Seaway’s 62nd navigation season kicked off on Tuesday with the transit of the Canadian-flagged cement carrier NACC Argonaut through Lock 8 on the Welland Canal.
Then, in the early hours on Wednesday morning, first U.S.-flag commercial vessel transited the locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., signaling the start of the U.S. fleet's 2020 sailing season.
The Seaway’s Montreal / Lake Ontario section will open on April 1 this year, eight days after the opening of the Welland Canal. This hybrid approach will enable the International Joint Commission to move record volumes of water out of Lake Ontario in order to provide relief to lakeshore communities battered by high water levels.
The so-called “lakers” that ply these waters carry materials such as iron ore for steel, stone and cement for construction, grain, coal, sand and salt, deemed essential to ensuring citizens can weather the COVID-19 storm. Federal and state governments recognize the critical importance of Seaway and Great Lakes shipping by including the sailors, dock workers and other key support personnel on the list of essential workers.
“With the COVID-19 outbreak, we are living in exceptional times. We witnessed a tremendous response by our employees and members of the broader marine community in overcoming a range of obstacles to ensure that the Seaway can open,” said Terence Bowles, President and CEO of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC). “The St. Lawrence Seaway provides an essential transportation service that literally feeds nations around the world, including Canada and the U.S., and supplies the inputs which keep many of our industries operating. We will strive to do our part during this difficult period. We are implementing recommended preventive measures to protect the health of our employees, including working from home where possible.”
“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,” said Jim Weakley, President of the Lakes Carriers’ Association.
“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,” 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.”
Craig H. Middlebrook, Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, said, “Every navigation season brings opportunities and challenges and the 2020 season will be no different. While the opportunities and challenges change each year, what remains constant are the safety, reliability, efficiency and environmental performance advantages of waterborne transportation. The Seaway Corporations continue working every day to ensure that these advantages are realized as fully as possible in our binational waterway.”