Great Lakes Bulker Takes On Water After Hitting Underwater Object

Michipicoten Great Lakes Bulker
Michipicoten is now 72-years-old (USCG photo)

Published Jun 8, 2024 5:28 PM by The Maritime Executive


Another of the historic bulkers operating the Great Lakes declared an emergency today after striking something underwater while underway on Lake Superior, near Grand Portage, Minnesota. The U.S. Coast Guard reports the vessel which is 72 years old was able to stabilize flooding and has safely anchored in Thunder Bay.

The bulk carrier Michipicoten operated by Rand Logistics contacted the USCG around 0700 local time on Saturday, June 8 reporting it was taking on water and developing an increasing list. The crew said they believed they had hit an unknown object in the water while located about 35 miles southwest of Michigan's Isle Royale.

Built in 1952 as a coal-powered laker, she is one of the oldest operational vessels on the waterway where it is common for vessels to sail well past 50 years, although owners have been looking to modernize their fleets. The vessel is 698 feet in length (210 meters) with a loading capacity of 22,000 tons. She has a crew of 22 people on board and reports are that her normal operating speed is around 13 knots. The ship is registered in Canada and was long ago converted to diesel propulsion. She has been operating for Rand since 2003.

She had departed Two Harbors, Minnesota, on Friday. The bulker is loaded with a cargo of a low-grade iron ore known as taconite. The Coast Guard is reporting that there have not been spills or pollution from the ongoing incident.


(Posted on Facebook Minnesota Scuba Diving group)


The Coast Guard dispatched boats and helicopters to assess the situation and another laker, the Edwin H. Gott, operated by Great Lakes Fleet, a subsidiary of Canadian National Railway, rushed to aid the stricken vessel. She is remaining alongside during the slow-speed transit into Thunder Bay.

The Michipicoten developed a 15-degree list with pictures showing her down at the bow. Onlookers were speculating that the vessel would sink. However, the Coast Guard reports water pumps onboard the laker were able to displace some of the water and control the flooding. The list was reduced to 5 degrees when at around 0915 they began heading for port. 

However, at 1230 the Coast Guard reports the decision was made to evacuate non-essential crew. Half of the 22 people aboard were removed for safety according to the USCG.


(Posted on Facebook Minnesota Scuba Diving group)


The vessel reached Thunder Bay on Saturday afternoon, where an inspection will begin.

Serious accidents are rare on the Great Lakes but there has been a spate of smaller incidents. Another historic laker was disabled by a fire last summer. Several of the vessels have also had soft groundings which attracted local attention.