US Coast Guard cutters break ice as Lake Erie freezes

The 304-foot motor vessel Indiana Harbor sits stuck in ice in the St. Clair River awaiting to be freed, January 2, 2018. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Neah Bay broke the vessel free later that day. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

CLEVELAND — U.S. Coast Guard cutters Neah Bay and Morro Bay, 140-foot bay class ice-breaking tugs home-ported in Cleveland, freed multiple vessels beset by ice in western Lake Erie and the St. Clair River, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The cold temperatures over Lake Erie caused ice to form rapidly over the lake leading to the motor vessels John J. Boland, Hon Paul J. Martin, Indiana Harbor and James R. Barker to become stuck in ice.

Coast Guard cutters stationed on the Great Lakes support the service’s domestic ice-breaking mission through annual operations Taconite and Coal Shovel. 

Commerce across Lake Erie is kept moving by U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard cutters providing ice-breaking assistance in support of Operation Coal Shovel. Operation Coal Shovel encompasses not only Lake Erie, but also supports waterways in southern Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair/Detroit River system, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway and is coordinated out of Coast Guard Sector Detroit.

The John J. Boland first became stuck in ice in western Lake Erie late Monday, and was broken out of the ice by the Morro Bay at approximately 8:45 a.m., Wednesday.

The Indiana Harbor was beset by ice in the Middle Channel, St. Clair River, Tuesday, and was  broken out of ice by the Neah Bay.

The Hon Paul J. Martin became beset by ice in western Lake Erie, Tuesday, and was broken out by the Morro Bay.

The James R. Barker was first beset by ice in western Lake Erie and broken out by the tug Calusa Coast, Tuesday, but it subsequently became beset again and was freed of the ice by the Morro Bay.

Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes and as a result, the fastest to freeze.

Currently, ice coverage on Lake Erie is over 20%, well above the seasonal norm of 5% for this time of year. Weather reports indicate that Lake Erie will build up more ice over the next week. With the shipping season set to end on January 15, 2018, Coast Guard cutters will continue to break ice to ensure that waterways stay navigable for cargo ships on the Great Lakes.

The Coast Guard’s ice-breaking mission includes not only facilitation of commercial navigation, but also the provision of ice-breaking services for search and rescue, emergency operations and flood mitigation.  


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