13 Foot Long Crack Found in Hull of Michipicoten

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Michipicoten - Image by Michael Hull - Walkersmoon Imagining.
Michipicoten - Image by Michael Hull - Walkersmoon Imagining.

Thunder Bay, ON – The Great Lakes freighter Michipicoten, which started taking on water while it was headed downbound on Lake Superior near Isle Royale over the weekend, suffered a 13-foot crack in its steel hull.

However, the mishap likely wasn’t caused by an underwater collision as initially suspected, the U.S. Coast Guard reported Monday evening.

The nearly 700-foot-long Michipicoten was en route from Two Harbors, Minnesota, to Thunder Bay, Canada, on Saturday when it began taking on water. Half of the ship’s crew was evacuated, and the vessel then continued to Thunder Bay.

The U.S. Coast Guard initially reported that the Michipicoten, carrying taconite mined on Minnesota’s Iron Range, had hit something underwater. While an underwater collision cannot be “100 percent” ruled out, there is no evidence to indicate the ship struck a submerged object, according to Lt. Joe Snyder, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard in Sault Ste. Marie.

“The gash in the ship’s hull is likely due to a stress fracture,” Snyder commented.

Divers found a 13-foot crack below the waterline near the bow. The crack varied from one-half inch to one inch wide. This breach caused flooding in a ballast tank and the “centreline void,” an empty space between the hatch floor and the hull.

Temporary patches are being installed on the ship in Thunder Bay to make it seaworthy. The vessel is expected to sail under its own power to another port for more extensive repairs.

The Heddle Shipyard in Thunder Bay at the mouth of the Current River closed earlier this year and isn’t available.

The initial reports from the ship suggested an underwater collision, but later conversations with crew members and an initial assessment of the ship indicated the cause might be something else.

The Michipicoten is currently docked at Keefer Terminal in Thunder Bay while investigators from the U.S. and Canada continue to work to determine the cause of the damage. The ship began taking on water shortly before 7 a.m. Saturday, about 35 miles southwest of Isle Royale in U.S. waters. The Coast Guard and the U.S. National Park Service responded, evacuating half of the Michipicoten’s 22 crew members by boat. None were injured.

“They needed some crew to keep the vessel moving,” Snyder said, while the rest were evacuated “out of an abundance of caution.”

The ship, listing at 5 degrees, reached Thunder Bay under its own power. It was accompanied part of the way by another bulk carrier, the Edwin H. Gott, with assistance from Coast Guard, U.S. Border Patrol, and Park Service boats as well as the Canadian Coast Guard Cape Challion and the Glenada a local tug from Thunder Bay Tug Services.

The Michipicoten was built in 1952 as the coal-fired steamer Elton Hoyt II. It was converted to diesel propulsion and rechristened the Michipicoten in 2003 when it was acquired by a company now a subsidiary of Rand Logistics. New Jersey-based Rand Logistics operates a major Great Lakes fleet, with ten U.S.-flagged vessels and six Canadian-flagged ships, including the Michipicoten.

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