Coast Guard icebreaker frees freigher Manistee

The freighter Manistee, in ballast with no cargo, rides high in the waters of the Straits of Mackinac after being freed Saturday from ice by the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Biscayne Bay. The 676-foot bulk carrier was en route to Lake Huron when it became icebound and requested Coast Guard assistance. (Courtesy photo/U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Scott Adler)

CLEVELAND — The crew of the Coast Guard cutter Biscayne Bay rescued two icebound vessels in the Straits of Mackinac Friday night and Saturday morning.

The 140-foot ice-breaking tug homeported in St. Ignace aided the Mackinac Island ferry Huron with 68 people on board Friday evening and then the freigher Manistee early Saturday morning. The Biscayne Bay is part of the Coast Guard’s Operation Taconite, an ice breaking operation that began in December.

The Huron was trying to make the trip from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island when it got stuck in the ice. The crew of Biscayne Bay was able to free the ferry without incident and after the ferry safely entered Mackinac Island Harbor, the crew of Biscayne Bay remained nearby as the ferry offloaded their passengers and onloaded more.

Due to the fact that ice was reportedly building at Round Island Passage, the crew of Biscayne Bay remained with the ferry Huron for its return trip to St. Ignace. At 8:25 p.m. both the Huron and the Biscayne Bay were safely moored in St. Ignace.

The crew of the Manistee, a 676-foot bulk carrier, contacted the Coast Guard Station Sault at 5:18 a.m. reporting the ship had become icebound with 18 people aboard about 10 nautical miles west of the Mackinac Bridge. The ship was reportedly in ballast, carrying no cargo.

For a time, the crew of Manistee was able to free the vessel, but could only operate at low speeds, due to the icy conditions. The crew of Biscayne Bay was on scene at 8:50 a.m. and was able to safely free the motor vessel and escort it through the Round Island Passage and into the open waters of Lake Huron.

In support of Operation Taconite this year, the crew of Biscayne Bay has broken ice throughout Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, but aiding vessels close the cutter’s homeport is particularly special for the crew.

“We don’t get many opportunities to assist our local community, right here in St. Ignace,” said Lt. Matthew Walter, commanding officer of Biscayne Bay. “Any time we can meet the needs of industry here in the straits and take care of our neighbors, it gives us an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to our unit motto of the Sentinel of the Straits.

Coordinated by Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie, Operation Taconite is the Coast Guard’s largest domestic ice breaking operation, encompassing lakes Superior and Michigan, the St. Mary’s River, the Straits of Mackinac and northern Lake Huron.

A second ice breaking operation, Operation Coal Shovel, takes place in the eastern Great Lakes region, including lakes Erie and Ontario, the Detroit and St. Clair rivers, Lake St. Clair and southern Lake Huron.

The Coast Guard states that it is dedicated to ensuring a safe, efficient and navigable waterway system that supports domestic commerce and international trade, while at the same time mitigating economic risks caused by ice in the maritime environment. The Coast Guard works closely with the Canadian Coast Guard and maritime industry representatives to ensure critical shipping paths are open for transit.

Domestic ice breaking is normally conducted for four basic purposes: search and rescue, urgent response to vessels beset by ice, assisting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with community service requests (including flood relief), and facilitation of navigation to meet the reasonable demands of commerce.

As a result of the operation, certain waterways may close after consideration is given to the protection of the marine environment, waterway improvements, aids to navigation, the need for cross-channel ferry traffic and the availability of icebreakers. Another important consideration is the safety of residents of Great Lakes islands and other remote locations, who, in the course of their daily business, use naturally formed ice bridges for transportation to and from the mainland.

The Coast Guard advises recreational ice users that there are currently no channel closures, and therefore they should plan their activities carefully, using caution on the ice and staying away from shipping channels. Recreational users and island residents should stay tuned to local media resources for the status of waterway closures.

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