US Great Lakes shipping season to begin amid COVID-19 challenges

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(MGN Image)(WLUC)
Published: Mar. 24, 2020 at 2:03 PM EDT
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The first U.S.-flag commercial vessel, known as “lakers,” will transit the locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan in the early hours of Wednesday, March 25, signaling the start of the 2020 sailing season.

They carry the materials that drive the U.S. economy: iron ore for steel, stone and cement for construction, grain, coal, sand, and salt.

Since 1775, the U.S.-flag Merchant Marine has answered our nation’s call and met the needs of our customers. Our motto is “In Peace and War” for good reason.

These cargoes are essential to ensuring we can all weather the COVID-19 storm. Federal and state governments recognize the critical importance of Great Lakes shipping by including the sailors, dock workers, and other key support personnel on the list of workers essential to the U.S. and Great Lakes economy.

“Since February, a tremendous team focus has gone into getting the fleet outfitted and sailing safely with healthy crews. This has been a truly concerted effort by the sailors, the vessel operators, U.S. Coast Guard, Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, public health officials, the Great Lakes dock and port operators, and service providers that keep our fleet sailing. Our first priority is the men and women sailing the vessels. Our efforts are focused on preparedness, prevention, and response to ensure their safety from the impacts of COVID-19. We’ve tried to anticipate as many contingencies as possible and prescribe the actions to counter them. This is a community effort and the partnerships we have forged are strong. The best plans are comprehensive and nimble,” Jim Weakley, President of the Lakes Carriers’ Association stated.

The U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet of U.S.-built, U.S.-crewed, and U.S.-owned vessels support nearly 150 thousand U.S. jobs paying $10.5 billion in salaries, drives $26 billion in economic activity, and protects U.S. national security.

“To keep the U.S.-flag fleet of lakers sailing, our crews are away from their families for weeks at a time. This is a difficult time to be separated from your family, but the men and women of the U.S.-flag fleet accept the challenge and know the vital role they play in keeping the rest of America working,” Weakley added. “We also thank the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard who facilitate our voyages by breaking ice and setting buoys. We recognize their need for additional resources and their sacrifice.”

About Lake Carriers’ Association: Since 1880, Lake Carriers’ has represented the U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet, which today can move more than 90 million tons of cargoes annually that are the foundation of American industry, infrastructure, and energy: iron ore, stone, coal, cement, and other dry bulk materials such as grain, salt, and sand.