Ice Jam 2014 Continues to Play Havoc with Iron Ore Shipments

Written by John Packard

US Steel Gary Works is not alone as the mill limps along on two of its blast furnaces operating at reduced capacities due to a lack of raw materials. According to a US Steel spokesperson nothing has changed over the past five or six days as the mill waits for further shipments coming from Northern Minnesota through Lake Superior.

Ships are attempting to move through Lake Superior which as of today is still 64 percent contained by ice. Any ships moving have to be through the use of a convoy led by two USCG and Canadian ice breakers.

Steel Market Update asked Essar Steel Algoma to report on their situation as the mill sits in Sault Ste Marie where all the ships must pass in order to get into or out of Lake Superior. Brenda Stenta, Essar Steel Algoma Corporate Communications told SMU:

“The spring thaw continues to elude us.  Movement on the lower lakes has opened up to facilitate several coal shipments.  Unfortunately ice conditions on Lake Superior continue to critically delay iron ore shipments as the US and Canadian Coast Guards manage convoys of vessels as weather and ice conditions permit. The situation is very fluid. Essar Steel Algoma has a vessel in the queue and we are awaiting movement.  In the interim we continue to receive iron ore shipments via rail.  Production continues and is adjusted as required.”

We have been following the progress of a convoy of five ships which left the Duluth and Two Harbors area on Tuesday of this week. One of the vessels is the Presque Isle which is destined for the port of Gary, Indiana and currently has an ETA of April 20th.

From Sault Ste. Marie we saw the following report from

4/17 – Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. – It has been almost a month since the Soo Locks opened for business, but traffic is still moving at a historically slow pace. There are currently more than 40 ships waiting to get through the locks, and at this point the flow of traffic is at Mother Nature’s mercy.

Ships are lined up throughout the St. Marys River system, waiting for their turn to go west across Lake Superior. “The next outbound convoy is probably going to be Sunday, but that is a guess,” Jim Peach, Soo Locks Assistant Area Engineer said.

Due to the thickness of the ice, it takes two Coast Guard ice cutters to escort ships carrying iron ore and coal. “They can only come five or six at a time,” Peach said.

That can take more than a week to do so. By the time they get to the Soo Locks, many of the ships and their crews are fatigued.

“Some of them are running out of fuel so were fueling them,” Dennis Campbell, Soo Locks Chief Lock Master said. Because the trips are so long many of them are running out of supplies.

“We’ve actually given permission to them to load supplies across our piers, which is very unusual, that’s not what we consider the piers to be for,” Peach said.

For ships going south, their travels will likely be a lot smoother while passing through Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. But lock engineers anticipate problems with ice on Lake Superior until mid-May.

“This is one for the record books as far as anybody living memory as for anybody on our staff this is the first time with experienced this much delay,” Peach said.

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