Assembly begins on historic new Great Lakes freighter

Interlake Steamship Co. celebrated with the shipyard in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, by naming the vessel on Tuesday.

Sections of keel of the lake freighter Mark W. Barker are lowered and joined together in a large graving dock in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, by Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding workers. (Photo courtesy of Interlake Steamship Co.)
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The first U.S.-flagged lake freighter built on the Great Lakes in more than 35 years celebrated milestones this week, earning its name and seeing the start of its assembly Tuesday at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

The Interlake Steamship Co. said it will name the vessel Mark W. Barker, after a second-generation leader of the company.

“This ship is more than the steel assembled here by Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding,” said James R. Barker, who has led the family-run company for more than three decades. “This ship represents Interlake’s determination to be an active and responsible participant in all aspects of Great Lakes trade.”

Interlake, based near Cleveland, also has a ship named for James R. Barker.

The company celebrated with a ceremonial keel laying after more than nine months of engineering and creation of its modular sections.


Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding workers assemble sections of keel for the lake freighter Mark W. Barker in a large graving dock in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy of Interlake Steamship Co.)

Modern ships are now largely built in a series of prefabricated, complete hull sections rather than being built around a single keel, the company explained. The event recognized the keel laying as the first joining of modular components, or the lowering of the first modules into place.

The tradition dates back to the times of wooden ships and is said to bring luck to the ship during construction.

“This large-scale bulk carrier is being built on the Great Lakes and will operate right here on the Great Lakes, which creates a sense of local and regional pride," Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding Vice President and General Manager Todd Thayse said. "Today’s ceremony with Interlake and the naming of the vessel really brings this ship to life."

The 639-foot lake freighter will be capable of hauling 28,000 gross tons. Scheduled for completion in the middle of 2022, the carrier is being built by nearly 700 trade workers.

The new lake freighter is believed to be the first ship for U.S. Great Lakes service built on the Great Lakes since 1983. The ship will transport raw materials such as salt, iron ore, and stone to support manufacturing throughout the Great Lakes region, the company said.

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