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Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Seaway 2018 in Review

The 2018 Seaway season was rather smooth sailing.

Reports of groundings or lock damage were minimal, while the amount of cargo moved along the waterway was at an increase during the past season. And, ship watchers were out in full force capturing the many vessels that graced the Islands.

Bro Anges, Jason DesJardins  2018

“Bro Agnes” passing through the Thousand Islands.
Photo courtesy Jason DesJardin, Horizon Aerial Media Services

A little more than three months after the last ship of the 2017 season left the Seaway, which had become an ice jam at Snell Lock, the first ships of the new season opened the system on March 29. Those having the honor of being the first ship(s) were the newly acquired cement carrier McKeil Spirit at St. Lambert Lock in Montreal, Algoma Niagara at the annual Top Hat Ceremony at Lock 3 Welland Canal, as well as Top Hat ceremonies at Lock 8 Welland Canal, Port Colborne featuring Algoma Equinox.

Just a few short days into season brought new builds Algoma Innovator and Algoma Sault, self-discharging bulk carriers, and Mia Desgagnés, the dual-fueled LNG chemical tanker.

There would be some hiccups in travel throughout April and May with weather playing a significant factor. Though ice was not an issue on the River itself, an ice storm that hit much of Eastern Ontario and Northern New York led to shipping delays. As many as 9 ships would anchor between April 15 and 16 due to the conditions. In early May, gale force winds pushed through the region causing another half dozen ships to drop their hooks. And at the end of May, it would be dense fog settling in over the River which would delay more than 10 ships.

Left, USCGC Escanaba
Right,  HMCS Moncton
Both photographs courtesy Joanne Crack, The Prescott Anchor

None of the shipping-related issues in 2018 would be severe or overly concerning. Kaministiqua reportedly lost steering near Toussiant Island in late April, causing a short delay for others, and a few others would experience similar problems. Tug Wilf Seymour got hung-up in the Beauharnois Canal as well. However, the biggest news of the season was the grounding of Chem Norma at the end of May. The ship was traveling upbound and carrying petroleum products when it grounded off Morrisburg, Ontario. After experiencing a mechanical failure, the ship drifted out of the channel and its bow became stuck against the embankment of the submerged former Seaway Lock 23, located just off of the modern-day mainland of Morrisburg. The salvage process would take several attempts over a number of days and include tugs Ocean Pierre Julien, Ocean K. Rusby, and Ocean Tundra. It would also require an increase of water flow east of Iroquois Lock that would help to refloat the ship and free it on June 3. The ship then sailed along the Seaway to Lake Ontario, where restricted maneuverability was reported and the vessel made its way to Tibbetts Point Anchorage. She would later be assisted across Lake Ontario to Port Dalhousie Anchorage by tug Ocean Golf and sail the Seaway again without further troubles.

The region would also have an array of unique visitors in 2018.

Pelee Islander II

The Pelee Islander II ferry was built in Chile and will be taking passengers to Pelee Island in Lake Erie.

Victory Cruise Lines

 Victory II, which is the sister ship of the former Saint Laurent , now known as Victory I.
Both photographs courtesy Joanne Crack, The Prescott Anchor

The new Pelee Island II was a sight to see and caught the attention of many ship watchers, while some ships of force ventured through the Islands as well. HMCS Oriole and HMCS Moncton were touring Canadian ports as part of their Great Lakes promotional deployment throughout the summer. On June 30, Canada’s second largest ice breaker, CCGS Terry Fox, passed through enroute to St. Catharines, ON, for re-fit. And as one Canadian Coast Guard vessel went in for work, another went out to sea. CCGS Samuel Risley set out to the Arctic waters to participate in the annual “Operation Pacer Goose” – a supply mission for the Thule, U.S.A. Air Force Base, Greenland. In the late fall, two new US Navy ship builds, USS Sioux City and USS Wichita, would depart the Great Lakes for their new stations.

Other highlights included the scrap tow of American Victory, as well as numerous yachts and cruise ships – including Thousand Islands based Canadian Empress and Victory II, which is the sister ship of the former Saint Laurent, now known as Victory I. She is the vessel which had an unfortunate mishap with the Eisenhower Lock door several seasons ago.

Federal Danube, Jason DesJardins  2018

Federal Danube
Photo by Jason DesJardins, Horizon Aerial Media Services

One bit of sad shipping news came in October when a crew member, of more than 20 years, was being lowered off Canada Steamship Lines’ Spruceglen at Eisenhower Lock in an effort to tie up the ship on the lock wall. This common, yet dangerous, task would prove to be fatal after the man slipped-off the dock and fell into the water and was found only minutes later, unresponsive. Efforts would be made at the dock to revive him, but unsuccessfully. The ship would proceed to its destination of Ashtabula, OH following a brief investigation into the accident. Fellow crew members and mariners took to social media to share their thoughts and condolences. CSL ships would fly their flags at half-mast as a sign of respect and mourning.

As November rolled around, so did the common gale force winds. On November 7, vessels anchored throughout the Seaway as winds topped 40 knots. Just a week or so later, the beginning of the partial closing of the ice boom across the Seaway between Prescott, ON and Ogdensburg, NY took place and by November 30, the partial closing of the main ice boom was complete leaving a 610m, (2,000ft) opening marked by red and green flashing lights allowing the ships to continue to pass through.

Blinding and blowing snow would cause havoc by closing the Pilot Station at Cape Vincent, sending several ships into various anchorages and well-known tugs Robinson Bay and Performance, along with CCGS Griffon, would work to pull navigation markers in cold conditions. Griffon would later proceed into the Great Lakes where it would serve as an ice-breaking vessel for winter shipping.

Momentum Scan, Jason DesJardins  2018

Momentum Scan
Photo by Jason DesJardins, Horizon Aerial Media Services

On December 28, the final ship of the season, Cedarglen, made its way through the Islands for Ashtabula and with that, the Seaway season of 2018 quietly closed ahead of the dropping of the ball on New Year’s Eve.

By Michael Folsom & Joanne Crack, Seaway Ship Watchers Network

Michael Folsom and Joanne Crack are partners in the Seaway Ship Watchers Network, a collaboration of Seaway News and Information. They are best known for operating the popular social media pages of St. Lawrence Seaway Ship Watchers (Folsom) and The Prescott Anchor (Crack).

  • Momentum Scan, Jason DesJardins  2018

    Momentum Scan, Jason DesJardins 2018

  • Top Hat with Algoma Niagara at Welland Canal Lock 3

    Top Hat with Algoma Niagara at Welland Canal Lock 3

  • Algoma Niagara at Welland Canal Lock 3

    Algoma Niagara at Welland Canal Lock 3

  • Algoma Sault, photo by Joanne Crack, The Prescott Journal

    Algoma Sault, photo by Joanne Crack, The Prescott Journal

  • Canadian Empress who completed 31 tours of the Thousand Islands last summer.

    Canadian Empress who completed 31 tours of the Thousand Islands last summer.


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Brian Johnson
Comment by: Brian Johnson
Left at: 5:41 PM Monday, January 14, 2019
Please allow me to be the first to congratulate my dear friend and colleague Joanne Crack of the Prescott Anchor and Mike Folsom of the St. Lawrence River Shipwatchers on this FANTASTIC article!!!
When it comes to news on the seaway, these two 'ship watchers' miss nothing. Very Big Congrats to both. And Joanne... 'nobody does it better'!
Mardy Howe
Comment by: Mardy Howe
Left at: 10:35 PM Monday, January 14, 2019
Awesome article. Very well done. Loved the photos. It was good fun looking back at the past year in shipping. Congratulations very well done. Your records of the past years events must be very well kept in order t pull this article together. Kudos and here's anxiously awaiting next season.