The freighter Paul R. Tregurtha quickly resumed work early Sunday morning, after it was cleared for action by U.S. Coast Guard inspectors looking for any sign that the longest vessel on the Great Lakes may have sustained damage when it ran aground Saturday afternoon near Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park.

“We did a survey of the ship, and there was no indication of damage,” said Lt. Judson Coleman of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Duluth. “Fortunately, the bottom was soft where it ran aground.”

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Because the 1,013.5-foot-long vessel was not taking on any water and showed no internal signs of structural or mechanical issues, Coleman said: “We were in agreement that there was no need to do a dive inspection.”

The outbound Tregurtha finally passed underneath the Aerial Lift Bridge at 12:47 a.m. Sunday, according to Adele Yorde, spokeswoman for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. The temporarily waylaid laker was about halfway across Lake Superior by Sunday evening, headed to Detroit Edison’s St. Clair Power Plant, loaded with more than 68,000 tons of coal it received from Midwest Energy Resources Co. in Superior on Saturday afternoon.

Tom Wynne, a spokesman for the Ohio-based Interlake Steamship Co., which owns the laker, said the Tregurtha was able to extricate itself under its own power with help from a couple of tugboats at about 7 p.m. Saturday, about 3½ hours after it failed to negotiate a sharp turn on its approach to the Aerial Lift Bridge.

“It was just the bow that was aground on a soft bank,” he said, explaining that the crew shifted ballast water to the aft of the ship.

“They were able to lift the bow by sinking the stern,” Wynne said.

As for what caused the freighter to veer off course Saturday, Wynne said: “We have nothing concrete at this time, but the captain said the ship didn’t respond as he expected when they started their turn toward the bridge.”

Wynne noted that the bridge approach requires a sharp turn in sometimes unpredictable current. He also said the Tregurtha encountered another complication shortly before it ran aground. A pleasure boat anchored in the middle of the shipping channel prompted the captain to blow a danger signal, Wynne said. The pleasure boat subsequently responded by picking up anchor and moving out of the way, he said.

“This incident happened in close proximity to when our vessel ran aground, but the captain didn’t have to make evasive maneuvers or anything,” Wynne said, stating that he does not view the unexpected encounter as a fundamental cause of the mishap.

After the Tregurtha was freed Saturday evening, it proceeded to the Duluth Seaway Port Authority Terminal, where it docked to await Coast Guard inspection.

Coleman said the incident remains under investigation, but said there was no initial indication of mechanical failure or of any other vessel causing the accident.


Freighter misses turn, runs aground off Bayfront Park in Duluth