Although the Great Lakes shipping season ends next week, work at shipyards is ramping up.

When the Soo Locks, which link Lake Superior to the other Great Lakes, close at midnight Tuesday, Jan. 15, until late March, ships on the Great Lakes will dock for seasonal maintenance and modernization, with eight freighters scheduled for winter layups in the Port of Duluth-Superior, the Duluth Seaway Port Authority announced Tuesday, Jan. 8.

"For the shipyards, this is the busiest time of the year," Lake Carriers' Association Vice President Glen Nekvasil said.

At Fraser Shipyards in Superior, on-site staff has jumped from its usual level of 100 workers to about 175 workers, Fraser Industries President and Chief Operating Officer James Farkas said.

Across the Great Lakes, Nekvasil predicts the 45 U.S.-flag vessels represented by the Lake Carriers' Association will spend about $60 million on work during winter layup.

Much of that work is on the ship's engines, but, "this is a very capital-intensive industry," Nekvasil said.

Although seven other ships are expected to arrive by early next week, the Tim S. Dool, which arrived on New Year's Day, is already dry docked at Fraser.

Four other ships are slated to dock at Fraser, the Port Authority said, but only the Tim S. Dool is expected to be dry docked, Farkas said.

"Dry docking is normally reserved for more extensive work," Farkas said.

The three ships not scheduled for Fraser will winter at Enbridge Dock, Eleattor "M" Dock and Midwest Energy, the Port Authority said.

The St. Lawrence Seaway System, which connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, closed Dec. 31. The last saltie, or oceangoing vessel, of the year left Duluth on Dec. 15.

Shipping season ends on 'strong note'

With the 2018 shipping season winding down, Duluth Seaway Port Authority officials are celebrating the season's high marks.

"The Port of Duluth-Superior is ending the shipping season on a strong note," Deb

DeLuca, Duluth Seaway Port Authority executive director, said in a news release Tuesday, Jan. 8.

DeLuca noted grain cargoes out of Duluth-Superior is up 22 percent through November compared to last year and iron ore shipments are 25 percent above its five-year average.

Coal shipments were down, however.

DeLuca said she expects the 2018 shipping season will surpass 32 million tons of total cargo.