April 14, 2008
USCG Great Lakes cutters still breaking ice
The arctic ice cap may be shrinking and the legendary Northwest Passage becoming nearer to opening up to commercial navigation. This year, though, the U.S. Coast Guard's Ninth District probably has at least its share of Global Warming skeptics,
That's because Ninth Coast Guard District cutters continue to break ice and maintain navigable waterways during the second toughest ice season on the Great Lakes in 11 years.
The Ninth Coast Guard District, responsible for the U.S. Great Lakes basin and St. Lawrence Seaway, employs eight multi-mission cutters to break ice in the region. The Canadian Coast Guard is an integral partner in the operations and provides an additional four ice-breaking capable ships.
This year's ice breaking operations facilitated more than $60 million in Great Lakes commerce; and assisted nearly 150 vessels as they transited through ice more than 15 feet thick.
Five 140-foot Bay Class ice breaking tugs (Katmai Bay, Bristol Bay, Mobile Bay, Biscayne Bay and Neah Bay), part of the U.S. fleet, continue to face additional challenges during the ice seasons as they approach 30 years of service. Greater maintenance and repair requirements create added challenges for the Ninth District and contracted support teams to keep the vessels operating at full capacity.
Currently, Katmai Bay, homeported in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., is the oldest of the Bay Class fleet, commissioned in January 1979; while the youngest is Neah Bay, homeported here and commissioned in October 1980.
The extensive ice season, second only to 2003, creates an additional challenge for the Ninth District's Operation Spring Restore. The largest U.S. domestic buoy operation restores nearly 1,300 navigational aids to their assigned positions, including lighted and unlighted buoys and beacons.
But this season, Operation Spring restore is delayed due to the ice season and will require increased cutter hours to meet the May 30 deadline.
"The Canadian Coast Guard assists with both operations, ice breaking and Spring Restore, but to complete Spring Restore in a safe and timely manner our (U.S. Coast Guard) cutters are going to have to work overtime," said Rear Adm. John E. Crowley, Jr., commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District.
"We are charged with providing a safe maritime environment to the Great Lakes community," he added, "and we will rise above these challenges and answer the call."