Interlake Cuts Steel for First New American Laker in 35 Years

Courtesy Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding

Published Aug 14, 2019 9:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Wednesday, Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding and The Interlake Steamship Company cut steel for the first U.S.-flagged laker to be built in more than 35 years. 

“The first cut of steel is a major milestone that signifies we, along with Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, are ready to begin production on this historic project,” said Interlake President Mark W. Barker. “We are extremely proud to build our company’s first ship since 1981 . . . with American-made steel from the iron ore we carry on our U.S. flag fleet vessels. It’s a true Great Lakes success story.”

Great Lakes self-unloading bulkers - known generally as "lakers" - are a unique class designed specifically for their region and purpose. Unlike typical bulkers, they have a conveyor system that allows them to discharge their own cargo in about 12 hours' time, without help from shoreside equipment. Exposed only to fresh water, they tend to outlast their seagoing counterparts by many decades, and fleet renewal cycles are long. As an extreme example, the 1906-built steamship St. Mary's Challenger was converted into an ATB barge unit in 2014, and the hull is still going in its 113th year in service. 

Fincantieri Bay VP and general manager Todd Thayse said that the new laker will be a source of local pride - built on the Great Lakes for use on the Great Lakes. The first plate used in the ceremony was sourced from a mill in Burns Harbor, Indiana operated by top global steelmaker ArcelorMittal. 

“ArcelorMittal is privileged to serve as a steel supplier for the newest bulk carrier on the Great Lakes,” said Gary Mohr, VP of supply chain management at ArcelorMittal USA. “The expansion of Interlake’s fleet will further support water commerce and the movement of raw materials using the safest, most efficient and environmentally friendly method of transportation. The construction of a new bulk carrier is a great example of how the steelmaking process comes full circle.”

Interlake believes that the new self-unloader is the first ship for U.S. Great Lakes service built on the Great Lakes since 1983. The 28,000 dwt bulker is jointly designed by Interlake Steamship Company, Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding and Bay Engineering, and the design includes advanced vessel and unloading systems automation.

The vessel is scheduled for completion in the middle of 2022, and it will provide employment for 700 shipyard workers, along with new business for the yard's contractors and suppliers. Major vendors and partners include ABS, EMD, Caterpillar, Lufkin and MacGregor.