Costs Mount As St. Lawrence Seaway Remains Blocked Due to Lock Collapse
THOROLD, Ontario (AP) _ Costs to shippers are mounting and notices of impending layoffs have been sent along the immobilized St. Lawrence Seaway as officials estimate it will be several weeks before a collapsed Welland Canal lock wall is repaired and traffic can resume.
″It’s going to mean billions of dollars overall,″ said Fleet Captain Winfield Longe of ULS International Inc., a Toronto-based shipping company with 21 vessels in operation.
The company issued a 24-hour notice of possible layoffs to its 600 crew members on Tuesday, Longe said.
He estimated that 150 Canadian ships are in the seaway system, of which the canal is a link, at a total operating cost of $20,000 per ship per day.
John Adams, deputy chief engineer for the St. Lawrence Development Corp., the U.S. operator of the waterway, said about 55 ships were involved, 15 moored in Lake Ontario waiting to go west, seven in the Welland Canal, eight in Lake Erie and another 25 at other Great Lakes ports.
The Welland Canal, which links the Atlantic Ocean, the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario with the rest of the Great Lakes, was scheduled to close for the winter at the end of December.
A 125-foot-long piece of a wall in Lock No. 7 of the canal dislodged Monday, trapping the Liberian freighter Furia for about eight hours. The Furia was headed from Milwaukee to Alexandria, Egypt, with 16,800 metric tons of grain aboard. No one was injured.
The Furia managed to back out of the lock Monday night after the chamber was filled with water to help support the weakened wall.
Officials would not predict how long it will take for repairs to be completed.
″It’s absolutely impossible to give an idea of the exact length of time,″ Seaway Authority President William A. O’Neil said Tuesday. ″We’re not looking for permanent repair. Our primary objective is to get navigation going. But I fully expect we will be open before the end of the shipping season.″
O’Neil said he would meet today with ship owners in Ottawa to discuss the damage and prospects of restoring shipping.
″We have as much interest in getting this thing back in service as quickly as possble as anybody else,″ he said.
In Buffalo, N.Y., officials said they hoped that grain on ships stranded in lakes Erie or Ontario could be transferred into rail cars to bypass the locks.
″There should be plenty of room,″ said Joe Sullivan, operations manager for Great Lakes Associates, a company that unloads grain in Buffalo for use in local mills. ″There’s three (grain elevators) operating right now that could handle the commodity.″
Charles Faulds, a Toronto-based regional manager for the Canadian National Railroad, said if the canal shutdown ″is going to be long term, it could have an impact on rail handling, but at the moment we don’t have a time frame.″
Richard Menkes, vice president of the St. Lawrence Seaway Pilots Association, blamed the collapse on poor maintenance by Canadian seaway authorities.
″The Welland Canal has been falling apart for years and everyone knows it,″ he said. ″It is amazing that a 150-foot section of lock wall could actually fall off.″
The concrete, authorities said, was the original poured in the 1930s when the 26-mile long, 156-year-old canal was rebuilt for a third time.