Tug and barge company McKeil Marine Limited has added a new barge to its fleet that is specifically designed to access shallower docks as a way to circumvent lower water level trends in the Great Lakes.

The Huron Spirit, which was recently purchased in Mexico, was christened in a special ceremony today at the Southwestern Sales terminal in the port of Windsor. Blair McKeil, Chairman and CEO of McKeil Marine, Steve Fletcher, President of McKeil Marine, and David Cree, President and CEO of Windsor Port Authority, were among the attendees.

Ginny Grant, daughter of Cheryl Sylvestre, President, Southwestern Sales, christened the Huron Spirit and Bunny Melander (mother of Kathy McKeil) christened its tug Leonard M with a traditional blessing and the breaking of a bottle of champagne against the bow.

David Cree said: “McKeil Marine has been a long time client and partner in the port of Windsor. We are very pleased that they have chosen our port as the location of the christening for the tug, Leonard M and barge Huron Spirit. We congratulate McKeil Marine in the christening of these new vessels and look forward to their years of service to the Great Lakes and the port of Windsor.”

The Huron Spirit, which was unloading stone at Southwestern Sales pier for construction, will be a regular visitor to the region, as well as various ports in the upper Great Lakes including; Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Chicago, Burns Harbour, Marblehead, Cedarville, Rodger City, Kingsville and Sault Ste. Marie. She will be used to carry mainly construction-related bulk materials and heavier breakbulk such as steel coils throughout Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Erie. The shallow draft barge is also designed with a strengthened deck to allow it to carry varied cargoes in a smaller deck footprint. The vessel is fitted with a 150-foot self-unloading boom, which allows transfer of cargo such as stone to shore terminals without the need for dock operators or cranes.

“Barges have been less affected by lower water levels in the Great Lakes as they sit higher in the water. But this new design allows us to carry considerably more or heavier cargo at our normal 19 feet draft,” says Steve Fletcher, President of McKeil Marine. “This will not only allow us to expand trade patterns for some of our customers but we will also be targeting shallower docks and ports that are typically less accessible. This could help companies get their cargo closer to the end destination, thereby reducing the amount of required trucking.”

Fletcher adds there are considerable environmental benefits to increasing the use of marine transport in the Great Lakes. “Marine transport is the most fuel-efficient and carbon-friendly way to ship goods. In the eight years that we have been transporting cargo for Aluminerie Alouette, we have taken 50,000 truck loads off a main Quebec highway and saved 200,000 tonnes of carbon from being released into the atmosphere. We believe we could see similar benefits with this latest barge in the Upper Great Lakes region.”