Historic Laker Briefly Grounds on Sandbar in Lake Michigan

Great Lakes bulker grounds
Kaye E. Baker is one of the historic bulkers sailing on the Great Lakes (photo courtesy of Interlake Steamship Company)

Published Apr 25, 2023 7:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

One of the historic bulkers operating on the Great Lakes briefly grounded on Monday, April 25, surviving the latest incident in her long career with no injuries, pollution, or damage. At age 71, the Kaye E. Barker is among the oldest operating bulkers on the Great Lakes, but a decade younger than other ships on the Lakes including one of her fleet mates.

The Interlake Steamship Company, owners of the Kaye E. Barker reported the bulker ran aground at approximately 10:00 a.m. local time Monday morning as she was approaching the port of Muskegon, Michigan on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. The 767-foot long bulker was moving at a slow speed just outside the breakwater as she was approaching the harbor when she became stuck on the bottom. 

The bulker was loaded with approximately 25,400 net tons of stone being transported from Ontario, Canada. The U.S. Coast Guard and a team from Interlake supervised the salvage operation to refloat the bulker. The Coast Guard reports that a private tug was brought in and in videos, the tug can be seen attempting to pull the vessel backward off the sandbar. The USCG was reporting that the channel into Muskegon was being partially blocked but that about 400 feet of channel remained open.



“When the vessel was loaded for Muskegon, it was loaded based upon the most recent bottom survey which indicated that there was sufficient water depth at the entrance,” Interlake said in its update on the situation. A survey of the area showed the hull was surrounded by sand.

When the efforts to pull the bulker free of the sandy bottom failed, the decision was made to begin offloading some of the stone cargo. A barge was brought alongside and after lightering operations transferring a small portion of the cargo the bulker was freed. The Kaye E. Barker was able to proceed to the dock where she discharged her cargo. A survey showed due to the sandy nature of the shoal, the vessel suffered no damage and Interlake reports she is “back underway.”

 “The sandbar developed after the last bottom survey was conducted and we are currently working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get the area dredged soon,” Interlake said in its update on the situation.

The situation was very similar, she also grounded nearly one year ago to the day in a similar position at the entrance to the harbor. On April 28, 2022, the Kaye E. Barker also inbound carrying stone grounded. After that incident, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers awarded a contract to remove an estimated 126,500 cubic yards of material saying that “considerable shoaling” had resulted in the outer harbor.

Built in 1952, the vessel originally operated for another well-known company, Cleveland-Cliffs Steamship Company, with Interlake being her third owner/operator acquiring the vessel in 1989. Earlier in her career, she was lengthened and in 2012 repowered to become a diesel vessel. Operating in fresh water, Lakers commonly have a longer life than ocean-going vessels. While the Kaye E. Barker is among the older ships still in service, both Interlake and another operator each have vessels in service built in 1942. At the other end of the spectrum, in July 2022 Interlake officially commissioned its newest vessel, the Mark W. Barker, the company’s first new vessel since 1981 and also the first new U.S. flagged laker in nearly 40 years.