Lakers preparing for cold winter layup in Fraser Shipyards

By KBJR News 1

January 7, 2014 Updated Jan 7, 2014 at 3:13 PM CDT

Superior, WI (NNCNOW.com) - Every five years all steamships, lakers, and 1,000–footers are mandated by the U.S. Coast guard to take two months of quality time out of the water, in dry docks like those found in Fraser Shipyards, in Superior.

This year it's Key Lakes Inc.'s Great Republic's turn to experience an average of $800,000 in needed maintenance.

According to Fraser's Director of Operations Tom Curelli, ice is on the minds this season of those in the Great Lakes shipping industry.

"There are a couple of vessels that are having some issues with the ice, and we've got some extra repairs for that," said Curelli, breathing heavily in the sub-zero temperatures as massive sheets of ice hung off the back of the Great Republic behind him, "but that's the way it goes!"

Over the next few weeks Curelli says everything about the ship—from mechanics to electronics—will be inspected top to bottom to make sure everything that needs to work out on the Great Lakes in 2014 does.

But floating a laker into an 880 foot–long dry dock in the middle of January requires keeping both the water closest to the entry gate, and the gate itself, from freezing.

"We've got to have a lot of extra heat, a lot of extra effort to [unfreeze] the gate, and get her in. There's a lot of ice inside the dry dock that comes in when the boat proceeds in," said Curelli, "so we'll have to get that all out before we can work safely underneath the vessel."

And if you already think it's too cold to be outside, Curelli says avoid making the descent into the frozen steel bathtub that is the dry dock, also known as "the Coldest Place on Earth."

"We try to protect everybody as much as we can, and try to keep them warm [and] give them some good breaks," said Curelli, as his breath froze in front of his face, "but it's tough, we've got to be very careful."

About 120 workers are active at the Fraser Shipyards right now, and anywhere from 60 to 80 will be added to the workforce in the coming weeks.

"...welders, and electricians, and plumbers," said Duluth Seaway Port Authority Public Relations Manager Adele Yorde, "and pipe fitters that go to work in hyper–gear starting in mid–January as we have winter layup starting."

Curelli says the thousand–foot Mesabi Miner, which collided with the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hollyhock in a Lake Michigan shipping channel Sunday, will also be inspected by Fraser Shipyards for damage when it makes its way into the Duluth Superior Harbor in the coming days.

Billy Wagness

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