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Grounded ship freed in Duluth harbor

The U.S. Coast Guard checks American Spirit for leaks on Sunday after the ship ran aground in the harbor. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com

The 1,004-foot freighter American Spirit left Duluth on Monday morning after spending several hours grounded in the Duluth harbor.

The investigation into the grounding, however, is still in its early stages.

The freighter, loaded with iron ore pellets, left Duluth at 9:18 a.m. Monday after being checked for infrastructure damage. It became lodged in the Duluth harbor’s bottom, with its bow pointing toward the Canal Park seawall at the Paulucci Building, at about 3:30 p.m. Sunday and floated free from the the bottom due to a water level rise in the harbor at about 10 p.m. Sunday, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Once free, it proceeded under its own power, with tug assistance, to the Husky Fuel dock for an examination of the hull’s interior and exterior. There were no reports of injuries aboard the freighter resulting from its grounding. The Coast Guard found no damage to the vessel or signs of pollution in the area.

“Just because they allowed the boat to leave doesn’t mean that they won’t be continuing the investigation. But the fact that it was able to get underway and continue its delivery is good news,” said Adele Yorde, spokeswoman at the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

The cause of the grounding is not yet known and should be determined through the course of the investigation. The Coast Guard doesn’t have a timeline for the completion of the investigation, but it will likely take some time, said Coast Guard spokesman Christopher Yaw. The investigation may be completed by either the Coast Guard, the National Transportation Safety Board or a combination of several agencies, he said.

“The point is to find out what happened, is there stuff that can be learned, was it human error, that kind of thing,” Yaw said.

Many potential causes and factors can contribute to a ship becoming grounded, Yorde said. She added the American Spirit’s grounding was the second one occurring in the harbor in the last decade, indicating that the ships “have good records for safety.” The ships practice for emergencies such as becoming grounded “and obviously, they handled it well without any damage to structure or to loss of life, any sort of injuries,” Yorde said. “It’s the best possible outcome to be able to leave port within 24 hours and get back underway.”

Ship traffic in the canal was halted after the American Spirit became grounded, but resumed Sunday night after the ship was freed. Ships were rerouted to the Wisconsin entry while traffic ceased in the Duluth canal. The longer route to Superior caused only a minimal disruption and didn’t cause a backlog of ship traffic, Yorde said.

“Minimal disruption is always a good thing because in the shipping industry, time really is money. When they’re fully loaded, there’s a steel mill waiting for that delivery,” Yorde said.

Meanwhile, a generator fire aboard the Paul R. Tregurtha stopped the ship in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin early Monday.

The vessel master of the 1,013-foot lake freighter reported the fire extinguished at 5:30 a.m., according to the Coast Guard, which received the first call of the incident at 4:20 a.m.

There were no injuries or pollution, and all 23 crewmembers were accounted for. The ship was carrying 68,200 tons of coal, 124,000 gallons of fuel, and 88,000 gallons of caustic soda, the Coast Guard reported.

The ship remained stopped outside Sault Ste. Marie by mid-morning Monday. The Coast Guard was monitoring the situation and conducting a Marine Casualty Investigation into the incident’s cause.

News Tribune reporter Brady Slater contributed to this report.

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