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Ice and snow cause delays clearing ship backlog on the Seaway

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MASSENA - Thick ice conditions as a result of last weekend’s winter storm have delayed ship traffic on the St. Lawrence Seaway.

“Hopefully we’ll have them all out in the next couple of days,” Lori K. Curran, director of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. Office of Lock Operations and Marine Services, Massena, said on Tuesday.

As of Tuesday afternoon, transit was delayed for 22 of the 36 ships on the Seaway system.

Michael Folsom, who operates The Shipwatcher.com website out of the Thousand Islands, tweeted Wednesday afternoon that downbound ships were slowly moving in the system based on priority. He also said Coast Guard vessels were working from Massena to Montreal to keep the ice clear for ships headed out of the system.

The Seaway plans to close its navigation season Monday. Ms. Curran said she is confident all ships will be cleared out of the system by then.

A line of seven ships was seen anchored near Ogdensburg Tuesday afternoon. Ms. Curran said ships were also anchored at Tibbetts Point near Cape Vincent, and Wilson Hill near Louisville. A tugboat and barge were aiding navigation as needed, she said.

“When we get a heavy snowfall it makes things a little more challenging, especially at the locks,” Ms. Curran said. “We have to process things more slowly and make sure ships aren’t getting stuck in the ice.”

Most of the ships are outbound at this point, Ms. Curran said, but there were still a few bound for the Great Lakes. She said the conditions could mean double the transit time for some ships.

“Our goal today and tomorrow is to move out more of the downbounds,” she said. “The last closing we had with a lot of ice was in about 2007, and there was another in the late 1980s where there was quite a bit of snow and ice that made things slower. It’s not going to stop traffic, just slow it down.”

She said U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard ice breakers were assisting with vessel escort, including the 140-foot cutter Neah Bay stationed in Cleveland, Ohio.

“We are pretty well stationed and pretty well covered,” Ms. Curran said. “We do expect that with the volume we have and the time it’s taking us to process ships that they will clear as intended, late on the 30th.”

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