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First Great Lakes freighter built since 1981 gets ready to set sail

Posted at 7:31 AM, Sep 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-01 07:31:14-04

MIDDLEBURG HEIGHTS, Ohio — The Interlake Steamship Company, based in Middleburg Heights, christened its newest lake freighter on Thursday afternoon.

The Mark W. Barker becomes the 10th ship in the company’s fleet. The first Great Lakes bulk carrier to be built on the Great Lakes in more than 40 years, Mark W. Barker is also the first new build for Interlake since 1981.

“When you have the opportunity to do something on a clean piece of paper, it takes a lot of work,” said Interlake President Mark Barker, the ship’s namesake. “These are long-lived assets. And you need to be thinking for the future. And that's what we're doing here today by investing in a new ship.”

Built-in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, the 639-foot ship will carry all types of cargo throughout the Great Lakes region but was designed to navigate the tight bends of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland.

The ship gets small when you're up in the pilot house driving it, and then you come down on the dock and you realize how big the thing really is,” said captain Paul Berger. “We’ve got fancy video cameras everywhere so we can see where we're going when we can’t see where we're going.”

Unlike most Great Lakes freighters, the Mark W. Barker has a square-shaped, flat-bottomed cargo hold instead of a traditional V-shaped angled bottom that funnels bulk cargo onto conveyer belts for offloading.

“We actually have more cargo capacity. So, we're limited basically on the available depth of water at the dock that we're going to or the river we're transiting more so than what the ship can actually carry," Berger said.

Her hull has been optimized for efficiency and all of the ship’s engine systems have been designed to ensure low energy consumption. The Barker is powered by a pair of engines generating 8,000 horsepower that meets EPA Tier 4 emissions standards.

The Barker will primarily haul salt from the Cargill salt mine here in Cleveland but is also equipped to haul iron ore, stone and other materials. She boasts a unique cargo hold arrangement and cargo hatch covers designed for maximum cubic space and the ability to handle difficult cargoes.

“The company would like to break into some different cargo markets now as coal is being phased out,” Berger said. “That's one of our large commodities. So, we have to pick up that slack somewhere.”

Five large hydraulically controlled stackable MacGregor hatches, more commonly found on ocean-going vessels, allow for a variety of operations and are even load-bearing, giving them even greater flexibility.

Front loaders and bulldozers are also on board to help expedite the loading and unloading process. Being she’s specifically designed to handle salt; her hull and steel are coated with corrosion-resistant material made by Sherwin Williams.

Berger said it’s an honor to be the ship’s first captain while showing off the new vessel at a ceremony in Cleveland’s North Coast Harbor. Despite the state-of-the-art technology at his fingertips, every tool is useful during the rough winter waters, not the lake.

“On a beautiful day like today, it's not as thrilling as when things aren't quite so nice and you still pull it off,” Berger said. “It's very gratifying to know that I brought this thing here. I didn't hit anything.”

While the Barker may be the ship’s shortest fleet at 639 feet, it’s not its smallest. With a cargo hold boasting 878,000 cubic feet of space that can take 26,000 tons of cargo, its payload puts it in line with ships that are 700-800 feet long.