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Shipping gets moving again after freighter cleared from Detroit River

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Lauren Solski's last name.

A logjam of freighters stalled for nearly two days after a ship ran aground in the Detroit River is moving again after the channel reopened early Friday.

The Harvest Spirit was moved Thursday night with tugboat assistance and is now anchored in Canadian waters. Shortly before 9 p.m., the freighter had been moved into the waters of Lake Erie, according to the website ais.boatnerd.com.

Late Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard said "no one was injured and there were no indications of leakage or pollution from the ship, which is loaded with approximately 10,000 metric tons of furnace coke and 74,000 gallons of diesel fuel."

The freighters Atlantic Huron, front, and the Algoma Sault anchored in the Detroit River, near downtown Detroit, Dec. 3, 2020. The ships had been stopped as Coast Guards in Canada and the U.S. worked to free the Harvest Spirit, which ran aground in the Livingstone Channel near Grosse Ile on Wednesday. After the Harvest Spirit was moved early Friday, both the Atlantic Huron and the Algoma Sault were among the first to get back on their journeys.

After soundings conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Livingstone Channel in the lower Detroit River, where the freighter first went aground, was found to be at a depth of 27.7 feet, satisfactory for traffic, and the channel was open to downbound vessels again just before 2 a.m.

An engine failure stranded the Harvest Spirit in the Livingstone Channel before 7 a.m. Wednesday. A second vessel, a cargo ship named the Gardno, struck the river's bottom while trying to sail around the Harvest Spirit.

Tug boats assist the freighter Harvest Spirit, grounded in what is known as Hole-in-the-Wall in the Livingstone Channel of the Detroit River between Grosse Ile, Mich., and Bob-Lo Island, Canada, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.

MoreShipping halted as freighter remains aground in Detroit River

Up to 18 vessels had anchored and were awaiting passage, the U.S. Coast Guard reported, during the Harvest Spirit incident. 

Eric Peace, director of operations and communications for the Lake Carriers Association, said Thursday the predicament had a giant and immediate financial impact on the region's shipping industry. Based in Westlake, Ohio, the association represents U.S.-flag vessel operators on the Great Lakes.

"We have vessels stacked up in Lake Huron about Port Huron and in the Detroit River down by Detroit," Peace said earlier Thursday. "We estimate that it costs $3,000 to $5,000 per hour for a 1,000-foot freighter to sit idle. You can multiply that by the number of vessels sitting around and it's been over 24 hours. It's a significant amount of money that's been lost right now."

Peace said the traffic jam was worrisome because the shipping season and sailing from Lake Superior to the lower lakes will end Jan. 15 with the closure of the Soo Locks and won't start up again until March 25.

"Any impact, one day, two days, obviously cuts into the nine-month season," he said.

Two tug boats from Great Lakes Towing, the Manitou and the Clyde, had been assisting, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

"The Gardno is currently safely anchored at Colchester Anchorage and is awaiting inspection and clearance by their Class Society," Lauren Solski, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Coast Guard said. "There are no reports of injuries or pollution."

Tugs assist the freighter Harvest Spirit, which remains stuck in the Detroit River on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Tugs in the area offering assistance include the Manitou, the Wyoming, the Clyde S. VanEnkevort and the George F. Bailey.

Officials for McKeil did not respond to a request for comment.

The Harvest Spirit was built in 2012 and was brought from dry-dock in Europe to Canada by its owner, McKeil Marine Limited. The Burlington, Ontario-based company provides transportation throughout the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, East Coast and in the Canadian Arctic.

It is currently carrying about 74,000 gallons of diesel fuel and a cargo of 9,000-10,000 metric tons of furnace coke, according to Canadian officials. On Tuesday, the Harvest Spirit made her first visit to Detroit, according to shipping news site Boatnerd.com, and loaded the coke on Zug Island.

After the Harvest Spirit ran aground, the Canadian Coast Guard's Marine Communications and Traffic Services in Sarnia directed vessels on the river to only travel through the shallower Amherstburg Channel, if operators felt it was safe.

Efforts to free the Harvest Spirit began before dusk Wednesday, but were halted after dark for safety reasons, officials said. 

Mark Hicks contributed.