The Florence Spirit (heading down the Welland Canal towards Lake Ontario) and Alanis (heading to Lake Erie), both great lake freighters collided on July 13, 2020. The two big lake freighters slammed each other on the starboard side near each other’s anchor. There were no injuries. An investigation into the crash from The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is ongoing.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is an independent body that promotes transportation safety by investigating accidents in the transport modes of air, sea, pipeline, and rail.
Lake freighters, or lakers, are bulk carrier vessels traveling the water ways of the North American Great Lakes. While known as boats, these vessels are classified as ships. Since the late 19th century, lakers have transported bulk cargoes of materials such as limestone, iron ore, (the most popular cargo) grain, coal, potash or salt from the upper Great Lakes mines and fields to the farther south/east, urban industrial areas. The 1000-foot (300 m) boats are the largest to sail The Great Lakes and are owned by the USA. Twelve of these ships were built between 1976 and 1981, and all twelve remain in service today. These 1,000 foot lakers can carry up to 78,850 long tonnes (80,120 t) of bulk cargo although their loading depends on the water levels of the lake, particularly in the channels and harbours. The average length of freighters is between 600-and-700-foot (180 and 210 m) and are more popular, due to the limitations (size) of traveling through the Welland Canal. The size and cargo ability of these vessels varies greatly, being able to accommodate between 10,000 and 40,000 of tonnes of goods per trip, depending on the individual boat.
Three hundred lakers served in the Great Lakes in the mid-20th century, but by the early 21st century there were less than 140 active ships. SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in 1975, was commonly regarded as the latest and largest main vessel to be lost to the Great Lakes.
The crew members’ salary is excellent, and Captains will make up to $200,000 per annum. The crew members miss out on family celebrations, birthdays, holidays for the nice pay cheque. Going out on the lakes isn’t as isolated as it used to be. Crew cabins come fitted with satellite TV and WIFI. Poker games or the read of a good book are no longer as popular. Often with the shipping season moving into November, weather can be a factor as Gordon Lightfoot sang in his song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” “When November’s skies turn gloomy”.
Pilots are required for lakers 115 feet in length, not licenced in Canada and their services are also called upon for passing through the canals in the Great Lakes. (Welland Canal and Lake Erie and Lake Huron)
Both Captains (The Florence Spirit and Alanis) had been in contact with each other before the collision, according to a report. During the collision the Alanis was forced towards the canal’s east side and the Florence Spirit was headed to the west bank. Both lakers were able to stop before the “banks” were hit.
All ships’ black boxes were removed, Alanis’ pilot was interviewed, as well as crew members from both ships by 3 inspectors brought in from Quebec City. It is possible that the investigation will decide whether the incident was equipment or human error. They’re not looking to blame, they’re looking to discover how this accident happened. The investigation could take up to one year and the findings will be published by The Transportation Board of Canada.