In fact, the reliability and number of U.S. and Canadian icebreaking assets on the Great Lakes is critical for the flow of cargoes to freshwater ports during the winter and spring commercial shipping seasons.
Jim Weakley, President of the U.S.-based Lake Carriers’ Association (LCA) states that the nation’s economy relies heabily on reliable and predictable icebreaking on the Great Lakes, highlighting that in the year before
when cargoes carried on U.S. Great Lakes ships were delayed or cancelled because of inadequate icebreaking, 5,000 jobs were lost, and the economy took a $1 billion hit.
Justin Westmiller, Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for St. Clair County, Michigan, stresses that “annual ice jams at places like Algonac, East China and Marine City in the St Clair River, cause flooding of properties and damage to sea walls. Icebreaking is essential to minimizing damaging impacts to shoreline communities from ice.”
The Lake Carriers’ Association warns that the outlook is not good for reliable icebreaking on the Great Lakes, as the number of U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers today is only 60% of what they were in the 1980s and 1990s for a system that has more shoreline than the entire U.S. east coast.
It is said that the U.S. Coast Guard only has 11 icebreakers in service at time, when it used to employ 19- 6 of which are 40 years-old. What is morel during the ice season, 5 have been sidelined with engine failures and other age-related problems.
Adding that, the Canadian Coast Guard only owns 2 icebreakers, which are 50 and 35 years-old respectively, when it used to employ 7.
Last year, three U.S. icebreakers were out of action during the ice season with significant engine problems. In addition, the Canadians suffered engine failures that kept them from joining the effort in eastern Lake Superior and the St. Mary’s River where dozens of idled commercial ships were stranded for days.
Icebreaking assets were stretched thin with boats stuck in Lake Erie, Lake Superior and the St Mary’s River. It is sasid that in January, US Coast Guard Sector Sault Sainte Marie begun Operation Taconite. This was USCG's largest domestic icebreaking operation in response to expanded ice growth in the commercial ports of Western Lake Superior and the St. Marys River.
The Lake Carriers’ Association states that this lack of adequate icebreaking on the Lakes
continues to have far-reaching national implications. Jobs across the country are being lost as Great Lakes shipping companies struggle to move the vital building blocks of America during the ice season.