Record ice forces shipping delays at the Soo Locks

By KBJR News 1

April 25, 2014 Updated Apr 26, 2014 at 11:19 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - Ships at the Soo Locks are at a standstill. About 60 ships are backed up, waiting to enter Lake Superior because of record ice cover. The traffic delay is having a ripple effect on industries waiting for critical cargo.

"We're in this process of start and then wait and then start and then wait," said Adele Yorde, the public relations manager for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

That's because where the lower lakes meet Lake Superior, dozens of ships are meeting stacks of ice eight feet thick.

Three ice breakers are escorting the ships in convoys of five.

"They're erring on the side of caution for crew safety and for safe passage of themselves," Yorde said.

The power of the ice is so strong, an 800 mile trip in March that should have taken three days from Duluth to Lower Michigan took two weeks.

The ships being held at bay carry everything from limestone to Iron ore.

"We're still producing to capacity, all the iron ore we can. It's being stock piled before it can be shipped," said Craig Pagel, with the Iron Mining Association.

The thick ice resulted in a 43 percent decrease in Iron Ore shipments last month, compared to a year ago.
Craig Pagel says it's having a ripple effect.

"The products and services that are made out of steel they have had to delay some of the shipments to those," Pagel said.

As the ice begins to melt, port officials say efficiency will be key.

"You will find that they will maximize their time to load and leave as quickly as possible when they can start traveling on their own again," Yorde said.

Port Authority officials say Duluth won't see its first saltie of the season for another week or two, the latest ever on record.

On March 5th, Lake Superior was nearly 96 percent ice covered.

Written by Kevin Jacobsen
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