Viking ship sailing the Great Lakes might have to turn back

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Danielle Kaeding

Wisconsin Public Radio

The world’s largest Viking ship is sailing through the Great Lakes with other historical replicas, stopping in cities along the way, including Green Bay and Duluth. But, costly ship pilot fees might force them to turn around sooner than expected.

The Draken Harald Harfagre is a replica of Viking ships that was said to carry 100 men. It costs an average of $400 an hour to have a pilot guide the foreign vessel through the Great Lakes, Draken Spokeswoman Sarah Blank said.

"The fees are just breaking the budget completely," she said. "We hope to get that solved, anyway, in order to continue this very interesting journey we’re having showing the world’s largest Viking ship to the people around the Great Lakes." 

They spoke with U.S. and Canadian authorities about requirements before passing through the Great Lakes, Blank said. They wouldn’t be required to pay Great Lakes fees, according to a Canadian pilot association. 

However, U.S. Western Great Lakes Pilot Association President John Swartout said ship officials knew they would have to pay for a pilot.

"We gave them an estimate of pilotage fees back in October and never implied that they would be waived or exempted," he said. "I don’t understand this narrative that they’re generating that they’re victims somehow."

The ship intends to continue its journey for now, Tall Ships Duluth executive producer Craig Samborski said.

"It is definitely not a no-go. We’re all working pretty diligently around the political spectrum and money-raising spectrum for them ... It’s disappointing to us. This ship in particular, I think, has some really cool ties to our part of the country where we have a heavy Scandinavian population."

No ill will or bad feelings are harbored toward the pilots associations or the U.S. Coast Guard, Blank said. The cost is just too much to continue without some form of assistance, potentially including a volunteer pilot. But, that’s unlikely. 

Swartout agrees, noting that there’s a shortage of Great Lakes pilots. Even if one did volunteer, the pilot may be called to guide another vessel, Swartout said. Pilots are required to be continuously available for service when they’re certified.

The cost of a pilot for the rest of the journey is around $400,000. The Minneapolis-based Sons of Norway has raised about 10 percent of those funds so far.

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