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After nearly two days aground, stranded freighter freed near Soo Locks

The freighter Calumet sits aground in the St. Marys River in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., on Thursday. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

After nearly two days aground and blocking commercial ship traffic to and from Lake Superior, the freighter Calumet was freed Friday night from a shoal in the St. Marys River east of the Soo Locks.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported the 629-foot Calumet refloated quickly once work got underway, and it was moved to a designated anchorage downriver.

"They're going to anchor it there and do an examination. The Army Corps is going to look at the area of the river where it was grounded and from there, they'll determine if and when they can open up the channel," Coast Guard Master Chief Alan Haraf told the News Tribune.

Earlier Friday, the Coast Guard reported that a dozen vessels were anchored or moored waiting to head south to Lake Huron, and five vessels were waiting to head north to Lake Superior, as the Calumet remained stranded near Sugar Island, Mich. Authorities had closed a section of the river to commercial shipping as a precaution in the wake of the grounding; the river is the only route for vessels to and from Lake Superior.

The Calumet had departed the Essar Steel mill in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and was heading down the river, having passed through the Soo Locks, to its next port of call in Brevort, Mich., when it ran aground at about 11:40 p.m. local time Wednesday, the Coast Guard reported.

The Calumet was navigating a roughly 45-degree rightward turn in the navigation channel when it went aground. Charts show the channel is about 28 feet deep in that area and narrows from about 1,400 feet wide to 600 in the section where the Calumet stalled on the bottom of the river.

There were no reports of injuries or pollution in the wake of the grounding. The ship was not carrying any cargo, which made freeing it less complicated.

The Calumet's owner, Grand River Navigation Inc., submitted a salvage plan — including offloading ballast water to refloat the vessel — to the Coast Guard on Friday afternoon. The plan was approved, and efforts to free the Calumet got underway.

The cause of the grounding remains under investigation.

In 2015 the U.S. Department of Homeland of Security commissioned a study to examine the economic effects if the Soo Locks lost its largest of two locks, the Poe Lock, which would block much the commercial ship traffic to and from Lake Superior. That study estimated that a 30-day closure of the Soo Locks would have an economic impact to industry of $160 million — or more than $5 million per day.

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