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Interlake Orders First New U.S.-Flagged Laker Since 1983

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The 1942-built self-unloading laker Lee A. Tregurtha (file image courtesy Interlake)

By The Maritime Executive 2019-04-10 10:58:18

Interlake Steamship Company and Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding are building the first American self-unloading laker in 35 years. It is believed to be the first ship for U.S. Great Lakes service built on the Great Lakes since 1983.

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. 

Interlake is the largest privately-held American vessel operator on the Great Lakes, and it has been in the business for more than 100 years. Since lakers operate in fresh water, they last a long time, and Interlake hasn't had to order a new one since 1981.

The company has a long relationship with Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding for repair and refit work, and it picked the yard for the newbuild project in part because it wanted to keep the work in the region. “The Interlake Steamship Company is . . . extremely proud to build locally, supporting surrounding communities and states – a legacy that we began more than 100 years ago,” Barker says. “We live and work in the Great Lakes region, and promoting growth and the positive economic impact of Great Lakes shipping is integral to our mission and vision as a leader in this industry.”

Delivery is expected in 2022. The vessel will be an addition to Interlake's fleet rather than a replacement, and will take its total vessel count to 11 ships. 

On the Canadian side of the Lakes, seven newly-built freighters entered service between 2012-2015 in a spurt of fleet-renewal activity. All were built overseas, the majority in China: Canadian cabotage laws do not have a domestic build requirement, and in 2011, Canada repealed a 25 percent import duty on foreign-built ships. 

"We couldn't afford to build ships here," said Debbie Murray, director of policy and regulatory for the Canadian Shipowners Association, speaking to the Times Herald. "The bottom line was the import duty was lifted. That generated considerable investment by our membership."