Fire Burning Aboard Cuyahoga, Canada’s Oldest Laker

Fire broke out this afternoon aboard the Cuyahoga, Canada's oldest laker, while she was docked in Ohio (USCG)

Published Mar 15, 2024 3:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

The US Coast Guard is reporting a fire burning aboard Canada’s oldest Great Lakes cargo vessel. The 81-year-old Cuyahoga has dodged several other close calls, including a 2023 engine room fire that threatened her future but she returned to service late last year and was preparing for the 2024 season.

The fire broke out while the vessel was docked in Ashtabula, southwest of Erie, Ohio on Lake Erie. The vessel appears to have still been in winter layup. The U.S. Coast Guard reports the captain and crew are safe while the city and country have dispatched fire teams to the vessel. 

The U.S. Coast Guard reports it has deployed boats and a helicopter to assist the city resources. They are also planning to send marine inspectors and investigators to begin investigating the cause of the fire.



It is the second incident for the vessel in less than a year. Last May, the ship which has been operated for many years by Lower Lakes Towing, part of Rand Logistics, suffered an engine room fire while she was underway near Point Pelee, Ontario, Canada, on a trip from Saginaw, Michigan, and in Ohio. She had to be towed to port with many fearing her career had come to an end.

The vessel spent months undergoing repairs but keen-eyed observers spotted her back at work on the Lake last fall. There were reports that during the repairs she also underwent a 5-year survey with unconfirmed reports her owners were looking to extend her life until 2030.

While it is not uncommon for lakers to have long lives, the Cuyahoga is considered to be a piece of living history on the lakes. She was built in 1943 as the tenth of a class of sixteen A1 type Maritime Class Bulkers. At the time they were among the most stylish vessels on the lakes featuring the first use of the cruiser stern design and powered by a double compound steam engine. 

Originally known as the J. Burton Ayers, a name she sailed under for 52 years, she was part of a vital World War II supply effort moving much-needed iron ore to the mills supplying the wartime production of tanks, aircraft, and artillery.

She was acquired by Lower Lakes in 1995 and along with a sister ship the Mississagi went on to become the oldest Canadian Lakers. Her sister who was just a few months older was retired and scrapped in 2021.

At an overall length of 664 feet, the Cuyahoga has a capacity of 18,000 tons. She is used to transport bulk commodities including stone, iron ore, and coal.