Tregurtha Grounding Prompts Questions about Maritime Navigation

By KBJR News 1

August 17, 2012 Updated Aug 17, 2012 at 10:35 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - According to Captain Don Willecke, President of the Western Great Lakes Pilot's Association, the ever–changing variables that exist in Great Lakes maritime shipping—particularly in rocky channels, like the Saint Mary's River—require a pilot to have two things, in particular: experience...

"The longer you do it, I can't say the easier it gets, but certainly the more you can deal with it," says Capt. Willecke.

...and an intimate knowledge of the area in which a pilot is navigating. This includes, among others, an ability to memorize one's specific navigational charts, and replicate them, on paper, freehand.

"You make it look like the regular chart—all the lights, all the cities, all the depths—everything. So, you have to do that from memory. So, everybody that's out there that's a pilot has to do that," says Capt. Willecke.

Its knowledge, according to Captain Willecke, that can only be obtained through one of 7 maritime academies in the U.S., including the Great Lakes Maritime Academy, in Traverse City, Michigan. Attendees there hope to attain the prestigious U.S. Merchant Marine Officer's License, which, along with a 4 year program, comes with its share of hands on experience.

"In our case of the Deck Officers, it's 4 days for the ocean license, plus another 5 days for the pilot [license]. It also takes 360 days of sea service to become an unlimited tonnage, or unlimited horsepower, Merchant Marine Officer," says Rear Admiral Jerry Achenbach, Maritime Academy Superintendent.

Still, accidents happen, which is why the U.S. Coast Guard is ready to respond in a moment's notice in high traffic areas, like the Saint Mary's River, with their vessel traffic service.

"They're watching you on the computers. It's an automatic identification system where you can see the ship. We have reporting points, where we actually call in at certain points. So, you're in constant contact with the Coast Guard," says Capt. Willecke.

...an around the clock effort, say officials, to keep this expanding economic opportunity from running aground.

U.S. Coast Guard officials say an investigation into what caused the Tregurtha to run aground is underway.