U.S. COAST GUARD
The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Great Lakes-class heavy icebreaker Mackinaw breaks ice around the motor vessel AlgoSteel
Feb. 7 east of Lansing Shoal in Lake Michigan. AlgoSteel had been beset by ice on all sides and was unable to make way.
Controlled by Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie,
Mich., Operation Taconite is carried out on Lake Superior,
the St. Mary’s River, the Straits of Mackinac and northern
Lake Huron. Operation Coal Shovel is controlled by Coast
Guard Sector Detroit and carried out on southern Lake
Huron, the Detroit and St. Clair River systems, Lakes Erie
and Ontario, and the St. Lawrence Seaway.
During the last ice season, Operation Taconite began
Dec. 17, 2012, and Operation Coal Shovel began Jan. 3.
The U.S.-Canada agreement started several years
ago, with the U.S. Coast Guard supplying up to eight
icebreakers and Canada supplying two to break ice and
assist vessel transits.
U.S. Coast Guard officials said the partnership makes
a pair of heavy icebreakers available during times of
heavy ice. Without them, portions of the Great Lakes
would be completely blocked off to vessel traffic, said Lt.
Cmdr. Matt ten Berge, head of domestic icebreaking for
the Ninth District.
The service this past season also received assistance
from military and auxiliary flight crews, who flew
more than 30 missions to locate and spot ice, as part of
The Ninth District also has 47 small boat stations
located in four sectors, and those sectors conduct
weekly reconnaissance missions to assess ice coverage
and thickness for the operational commanders.
“The Coast Guard works closely with the Canadian
Coast Guard and industry to ensure critical shipping
paths are open for transit,” ten Berge said.
Crews also break up ice jams to prevent coastal
flooding and keep lanes clear for ferry service to island
Because of the region’s propensity for ice, the service’s
Research & Development Center, headquartered in New
London, Conn., uses the winter months in the basin to
test oil spill remediation products and processes that
would be of use in the Arctic, where oil exploration,
drilling and transport are prevalent, said T.J. Mangoni,
district response advisory team supervisor.
“It’s basically just an oil and ice demonstration. It’s
as simple as it is,” he said.
Thus far, the service has worked on oil skimming
and burning procedures, using a remotely operated
vehicle under the ice to spot oil, and comparing how
equipment works in fresh water versus salt water.
The service has acknowledged that a year-round presence will be needed in the Arctic in the future, but has
said it will be at least 10 years until a base is put there.
The Coast Guard currently has a seasonal presence in the
Arctic and has spent the last several summers examining
what types of infrastructure and assets would be needed
and can work in the region. The Great Lakes region
serves as a test bed for future Arctic operations. ■