Coast Guard completes ice breaking operation in lower Great Lakes

In this file photo, the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Morro Bay, a 140-foot ice breaking tug home ported in New London, Conn., approaches Kingston, N.Y., to clear ice from shipping channels for commercial traffic, such as home heating oil barges, on the Hudson River, Feb. 11, 2009. The Morro Bay serves a multitude of missions in the waterways of Long Island Sound, New York and New Jersey, such as search and rescue operations, ice breaking, and homeland security. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Petty Officer Seth Johnson)

USCG Cutter Morro Bay file photo

Detroit, Mich. – The end of Operation Coal Shovel, Thursday, brings the Coast Guard icebreaking season on the lower Great Lakes to a close.

Operations Coal Shovel and Taconite, the latter of which is still ongoing in the upper Great Lakes, are the largest bi-national domestic icebreaking efforts.

Operation Coal Shovel is carried out in the St. Lawrence Seaway, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, the Detroit / St. Clair River System, and southern Lake Huron while Operation Taconite encompasses Lake Superior, the St. Mary’s River, the Straits of Mackinac and northern Lake Huron.

Operation Coal Shovel started Dec. 15, 2010 and ended April 7, 2011. This season saw the longest period for the operation in more than 10 years. U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Mackinaw, Hollyhock, Bristol Bay, Neah Bay and the Morro Bay, temporarily assigned to the Great Lakes from their homeport of New London, Conn., were joined by the Canadian Coast Guard Ships Samuel Risley and Griffon during this year’s operation. The cutters and ships worked together to ensure commercial traffic transited the waterways safely and any flooding concerns were quickly mitigated. In total, U.S. and Canadian icebreaking efforts exceeded 3,000 hours during the 112 days of Operation Coal Shovel.

Also assisting the ships with ice reconnaissance were crews aboard Coast Guard Air Station Detroit and Coast Guard Auxiliary aircraft throughout the region. The aircraft provided valuable aerial information on ice concentrations for icebreaker management, minimizing risk to commercial shippers. In total, aircrews flew more than 130 hours on a total of 57 missions. The Coast Guard Auxiliary is a volunteer organization with members who donate their time, aircraft, and boats to assist the U.S. Coast Guard.

There were more than 1,200 vessel transits through the Detroit / St. Clair River System this ice breaking season, 148 of which were assisted by one of the seven icebreakers assigned to Operation Coal Shovel. Four communities received harbor breakouts from icebreakers to relieve or prevent flooding.

Each year the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards join efforts to ensure foreign ships depart the Great Lakes before the St. Lawrence Seaway closes, conduct wintertime search and rescue, minimize potential for flooding, provide assistance to island residents for critical supplies and services, and ensure the safe movement of critical cargoes on Great Lakes ships during the winter months.

Although the majority of ice has melted from the waterways, there may still be lingering ice that could pose hazards to recreational vessels. Likewise, the water temperatures are still very cold and could cause hypothermia within a matter of minutes. Recreational users of the waterways should consider these factors before venturing onto the water.

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