Bulk carrier arrives in Thunder Bay amid distress

By Sandi Krasowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

The shuttered Thunder Bay Heddle Shipyards is not helping matters for the bulk carrier Michipicoten, which struggled to make its way to a berth at Keefer Terminal on Saturday.

The ship must now be taken to a dry dock in either Duluth, Minn., or Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

The 212.75-metre-long vessel, owned by Lower Lakes Towing, was heading into the lower Great Lakes region after taking on a load of taconite at Two Harbors, Minn., and began listing as it took on water.

Around 7 a.m. that morning, the U.S. Coast Guard was alerted to its distress, about 56 kilometres southwest of Isle Royale in Lake Superior, and responded immediately.

Chris Heikkinen, chief executive officer of the Thunder Bay Port Authority, confirmed the ship arrived at Keefer Terminal late Saturday afternoon.

“It’s not uncommon for vessels to need somewhere to berth for repairs and we typically have a vacant berth available,” Heikkinen said.

“As part of our role as the Port Authority, we think of that as a service that we provide for the industry. We don’t expect any business interruption for Keefer Terminal (while it’s there.)”

He said Keefer Terminal has the capacity to offload taconite, a low-grade iron ore, and reload it once the ship is fixed, but the best course of action will be determined once the engineers have assessed the situation.

“We are always prepared for these types of emergency situations,” he said. “It may require some special equipment to be brought in but we’ll make it happen if that’s what needs to, needs to be done.”

Gerry Dawson, owner of Thunder Bay Tug Services Ltd, assisted the Michipicoten into the port and with the berth on Saturday and helped with extra pump installation. He speculated that the bulk carrier will likely discharge its load of taconite onto a sister ship, which would make cost-saving sense and keep the cargo moving to its destination.

Meanwhile, it is still uncertain as to what caused the ship to take on water.

“They’re not sure what it is but they don’t think they hit anything,” Dawson said. “They called it a stress fracture and structural and metallurgical engineers are onboard to figure out if it’s metal fatigue or what it is.”

Heikkinen said it was a “great bi-national effort” with many industry parties involved.

“I’m just pleased that the vessel is secure at the birth and that the crew are all safe,” he said.

The distressed carrier received prompt emergency assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard, which deployed a helicopter and Bayfield Station boat and crew to assist the vessel and evacuate many of the 22 crew members onboard. The MV Edwin H. Gott freighter, en route for Nanticoke, Ont., also came to the aid of the listing vessel. The carrier reportedly listed 15 degrees before the pumps were able to right it back to a five-degree list, which enabled it to sail to the closest port in Thunder Bay.

There were no injuries and no environmental concerns of any spillage.