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Canal Linking Lakes Is Closed

August 13, 2001

ALLANBURG, Ontario (AP) _ A canal linking Lakes Ontario and Erie, a major shipping link on the St. Lawrence Seaway, was closed Monday after a cargo vessel smashed into a drawbridge over the weekend and burst into flames.

About a dozen freight vessels were stranded in the Welland Canal _ which allows passage between the two lakes, joined naturally by Niagara Falls _ while cleanup of the ship was underway.

The link has been closed since Saturday, when the 732-foot long Windoc, carrying a shipment of wheat, smashed into the bridge. The bridge hit the ship as it was being lowered, sheering off the ship’s smokestack and wheelhouse.

The rear portion of the Windoc burst into flames. Two of the ship’s 22 crew members were treated for minor injuries.

``The fire started in the engine and the accommodation area,″ said Julie Herbert, spokesperson for the Transportation Safety Board. The board is investigating the accident.

Vessel traffic is not expected to resume until late Monday night, said Michel Drolet, Niagara Region vice president of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp.

Fire crews used aerial ladder trucks from both sides of the canal to put out the blaze, which continued to smolder into Sunday afternoon.

The vessel, carrying 26,000 tons of wheat, was coming from Thunder Bay, Ontario. It was headed to lower ports on the St. Lawrence River. The ship is owned by N.M. Paterson and Sons Ltd., a Canadian grain and shipping company.

Officials said damage to the bridge and ship is expected to run into millions of dollars, although its extent will not be known for several days.

The Welland Canal ties together the St. Lawrence Seaway, a critical 2,294-mile transportation waterway that links central Canada with the Atlantic Ocean.

The waterway system ties Canada’s western grain farmers to markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

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