Coast Guard icebreakers not a factor in creating Saturday’s ice floe

CLEVELAND – In the wake of Saturday’s successful mass rescue of 134 ice fisherman near Oak Harbor, Ohio, media reports have quoted individuals who have suggested that a Coast Guard icebreaker may have contributed to the ice floe breaking free. The Coast Guard has reviewed its icebreaker movements and determined that Coast Guard vessel movements were not a factor in the case.

The Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, homeported in Cheboygan, Mich., departed Cleveland Harbor at 9 a.m. Saturday morning on a scheduled trip up through the Detroit River via Pelee Pass north of Pelee Island, which is more than 26 nautical miles from Saturday’s incident. Pelee Passage is the established shipping track. At 11:28 a.m., Coast Guard Sector Detroit diverted the Mackinaw to assist in the mass rescue efforts off Locust Point.

“In cases like this where a larger number of people are in danger, we call in all available units,” said Lt. Dave French, External Affairs Officer for the Ninth Coast Guard District. “That call included one of our icebreakers, whose services may have been necessary to help rescuers access the scene. However, on-scene rescuers were able to the pull the 134 ice fisherman to safety before the icebreaker arrived.”

The Mackinaw arrived at a point northeast of the northern tip of Kelleys Island where the ice edge began, east of the Barrier Islands at 12:43 p.m. and monitored the rescue operation without entering the ice field. Locust Point was approximately 18 nautical miles to the southwest of the Mackinaw’s position. Mackinaw was later released from the case and returned north on their intended track at 1:38 p.m.

The Coast Guard has also determined that there have been no U.S. Coast Guard icebreaking efforts in the western Erie basin since January 24th, when the Coast Guard Cutter Neah Bay escorted a commercial vessel from the Maumee River north toward the Detroit River.

“There is no such thing as safe ice,” said French. “There is always some open water on the Great Lakes. When warm weather combines with winds pushing ice in the direction of open water, people should exercise extreme caution if they intend to go out on the ice.”

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