In like a lion and out like a lamb, or is it the other way around? Either way, March usually involves those references and the same can be said for the 2015 St. Lawrence Seaway season and with the opening date being delayed and not officially kicking off until April 2, one might have thought that the way it got underway was a joke.
Just hours after helping to be the ceremonial vessel, declaring the Seaway open for commerce, the brand new “CWB Marquis” suffered the young shipping season’s first grounding. The upbound ship anchored in Lake St. Louis, following the opening ceremonies at the St. Lambert Lock in Montreal. Before long, she was shoved from her location, by heavy ice floes, moving the fully loaded ship and putting it on the soft bottom, saving it from damage. Luckily, tugboats docked in nearby Montreal weren’t far from the scene and were able to provide assistance rather quickly. This allowed the ship to continue on its way less than 24 hours later.
Then, a mere 3 weeks later, “Juno,” a 621-foot Bahamian-flagged bulk carrier, with a load of sugar, was transiting upbound for the Port of Toronto and soon found itself laid up on the rock bottom of the River, under the American span of the 1000 Islands Bridge. Mechanical trouble would put the ship in a bad spot, stopping Seaway traffic and at one point halting vehicle traffic on the bridge, to ensure there was no threat to those crossing overhead. Ship traffic resumed within a few days, after the freighter was pulled off the rocks and moved to Bath, Ontario, where it was further inspected. Reports indicated that the ship took on as much as 18-feet of water in the bow.
April surely brought its lion share of misfortunes and the trend continued in June as well.
Following a quiet May, the Seaway’s Eisenhower Lock received a touch of international stardom on June 18 when the newly refurbished cruise ship, “Saint Laurent,” ran into trouble – literally. Before 10 p.m., reports began to fly as emergency crews were being summoned to the lock for a mass casualty scenario. “Saint Laurent” had changed pilots, departed Snell Lock and headed upbound proceeding toward Eisenhower Lock. The ship entered the lock, reportedly faster than necessary, and slammed into the lock gate’s concrete bumper. The bow of the ship was horribly damaged to the point it resembled the mouth of a shark. Many of the 192 passengers and 81 crew members onboard were evacuated via ladder trucks and cranes, and more than 20 were taken to nearby hospitals.
“Response to the unfortunate incident in June was both effective and thorough,” stated Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC) Administrator Betty Sutton, in October during a recognition ceremony for first responders. “Due to the swift actions of rescue workers and staff, passengers were quickly given the medical attention they needed and we were able to resume routine navigation within 48 hours.”
Despite the bumpy start, the season still presented unique viewing opportunities.
“Saint Laurent” ended up making multiple visits to Clayton and Kingston, which led to boosts in the local economy. Cruise ship “Pearl Mist” also made stopovers in Clayton. Tall ships “St. Lawrence II” and “Fair Jeanne” were constant visuals on the River. There were also numerous yachts, as in recent years, a new tugboat and barge combination, as well as new ships, including the previously mentioned ”CWB Marquis”, and “Spavalda.”
But, the most talked about ship sighting of 2015 had to be “USS Milwaukee.” Ship watchers across the Great Lakes, and especially along the river, awaited the Navy’s newest ship this fall. There were so many watchers along the river that the ship’s journey was nearly documented passing every small town on both sides of the St. Lawrence. If you missed “Milwaukee,” you will have another chance to see a Navy Freedom-class vessel at some point in the near future as “USS Sioux City” is set to be launched on January 30 in Wisconsin and will join “USS Detroit” and “USS Little Rock” as Navy ships soon to be delivered.
The 2015 season came to a close when “Baie St. Paul” exited the Montreal/Lake Ontario section of the Seaway, via St. Lambert Lock in Montreal, at 8:41 p.m. on December 30. The navigation season spanned a total of 274 days in length and saw 36 million tons of cargo transit the waterway, with grain, at volumes well above the five-year average, leading the way. However, overall transits were down by almost 160 (-4% over 2014 totals) and coal saw a 40% drop in tonnage.
“Now that the navigation season has concluded, winter maintenance projects at the U.S. Snell and Eisenhower locks are already underway. The maintenance of the U.S. locks is a year round job and Seaway employees are diligently working as we continue to rehabilitate and modernize the Seaway infrastructure, under our Asset Renewal Program” said Sutton. “The 2015 navigation season saw highs and lows in traditional cargoes that move through the Seaway System. Global demand for coal remained below last year’s levels, whereas general cargo to and from international and domestic markets remained high, with over a 100% increase. Project cargo and dry bulk materials, to support the construction and manufacturing industry, also remained in positive standings.”
A date for the 2016 Seaway opening will be announced in February.
By Michael Folsom,
Michael Folsom is a regular contributor to TI Life. He covers the “Seaway News” on his popular web site, http://www.theshipwatcher.com/, as well as a twitter site: http://twitter.com/theshipwatcher.
His work has been featured in the Thousand Islands Sun, as well as on boatnerd.com and northcountrynow.com. You can follow him on Twitter @theshipwatcher
To see all of Michael Folsom’s 31 articles written for TI Life. Click Here.