A snap freeze and very heavy ice conditions on the lower part of the St. Lawrence Seaway system delayed its closing for the season, says St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. spokesman Andrew Bogora.
“We had planned to close on Dec. 31, but given that ships are somewhat behind their original schedules, we extended the closing by a number of days,” said Bogora.
Capt. Adriaan Kooiman, of the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Griffon, said no one was expecting the amount of ice on the lower portion of the seaway, which runs from Kingston up the St. Lawrence River to Montreal.
“It’s very heavy for this time of year,” said Kooiman, adding ice was five centimetres thick in some areas.
The St. Lawrence River does not freeze over because of its current, but that current carries ice downstream causing it to pile up in different sections.
“We helped a lot of commercials ships. The locks were freezing up,” said Kooiman from the vessel as it sat docked in the Welland Canal along West Street in Port Colborne Tuesday morning.
Ships waiting for the locks — Lock 4 on the Beauharnois Canal specifically — were at anchor and the Griffon, said Kooiman, had to break them out and escort them in a convoy.
Bogora said the seaway authority’s operations team is in touch daily with both the Canadian and U.S. coast guard, working very closely to ensure shipping traffic moves through the system.
He said the delay on the lower portion of the seaway also saw the Welland Canal stay open for longer than planned. The canal was to close on Boxing Day, but a number of ships transited both upbound and downbound up to New Year’s Day.
In addition to ice causing a slowdown in travel times for cargo vessels, the recent grounding of the ocean-going vessel Pacific Huron, near Wellesley Island, N.Y., added to challenges, said Bogora.
“We still have five vessels waiting to clear the lower portion of the Seaway,” he said, adding the Pacific Huron will be the last to clear the lower portion of the system.
After working to clear ships from the lower portion of the seaway, the Griffon made its way to Port Colborne.
“The Griffon is scheduled to transit to Erie, Pa., and Ashtabula, Ohio, to assist vessels into and out of ports. It was working on the St. Lawrence Seaway providing service during critical ice conditions,” said Carol Launderville, Canadian Coast Guard communications adviser, in an email.
She said both the Canadian and U.S. coast guard are conducting icebreaking operations to assist commercial shipping throughout the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Seaway.
“The service ensures safe navigation, prevents the formation of ice jams and flooding, and maintains open routes for maritime commerce,” she said.
Kooiman said the Griffon would move out into Lake Erie once the wind died down, and he expected to find thin lake ice.
He also expected ice to keep forming with the cold temperatures being experienced.
Ice reports on the Great Lakes, he said, come to the vessel from sources such as Environment Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard office, U.S. coast guard and others. Ice coverage on Lake Erie is at nearly 40 per cent.
“It’s a collaborative effort. We get the best possible picture of what’s out there,” said Kooiman.
He said the Griffon will move west down Lake Erie at some point to help commercial vessels still carrying cargo.
“Our traditional operating area is the Detroit River and western basin of Lake Erie,” he said.
While the Griffon is on Lake Erie, the CCGS Samuel Risley is icebreaking on southern Georgian Bay, in Midland Harbour, and will then proceed to the St. Clair River.
Launderville said the Coast Guard reminds people that all ice on or near the shipping routes and icebreaking operations should be considered unsafe.
“Ship tracks may not freeze over immediately and newly-fallen snow may obscure tracks.”
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Source: Welland Tribune