Great Lakes Freighter Catches Fire at Bay Shipbuilding

roger blough
Roger Blough (file image courtesy Ralph Mackiewicz / CC BY SA 4.0)

Published Feb 1, 2021 10:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

A well-known Great Lakes freighter caught fire in the early hours of Monday morning at a shipyard in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, prompting a large-scale response from local firefighters. 

First responders in the town of Sturgeon Bay received a report that the CN-operated laker Roger Blough had caught fire at about 0200 hours Monday morning. The Blough was in winter layup at the Bay Shipbuilding yard, and she sustained a fire in the vicinity of her unloading conveyor, according to local media. Smoke was still emanating from the vessel at daybreak but had ceased by midday. 

The Blough had a reduced crew on board, a yard spokesman told the Green Bay Press Gazette, and no injuries were reported. A team from operator Keystone Shipping is on scene and working with the U.S. Coast Guard to assess the damage and investigate the cause of the fire. 

The U.S.-flagged Roger Blough was built in the early 1970s at the American Ship Building Co. yard in Ohio. Her delivery was delayed when a major fire broke out in her engine room in June 1971, killing four men and causing extensive damage. The repairs put her commissioning back until the following year. 

The Blough is also remembered for her role in the aftermath of the famous Edmund Fitzgerald disaster. The Fitzgerald went down in a storm on November 10, 1975, and the Blough was one of the first good samaritan vessels engaged in the search effort after the sinking. The crew of the Blough recovered an empty inflatable liferaft belonging to the Fitzgerald off Coppermine Point, Ontario on the morning after the tragedy.

She was also involved in a more recent casualty. In May 2016, the Blough went aground on Gros Cap Reef in Lake Superior, resulting in minor hull damage and limited flooding. After lightering off some of her cargo to another ship, she was successfully refloated and escorted to Bay Shipbuilding for repairs.