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The Alpena, Lee A. Tregurtha, and the USCG cutter Alder battle heavy ice conditions in Lake Superior near Duluth Wednesday afternoon. The lakers were stuck in the heavy ice and are waiting for a heavier ice breaker to make its way to this area of the lake. (Clint Austin/Duluth News Tribune)

Lake Superior ice snares two lakers

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DULUTH - A pair of lakers spent much of the day Wednesday grinding their way out of the Twin Ports after they were beset by ice just outside the harbor.

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The Lee A. Tregurtha was the first one waylaid by ice. The laker, a member of the Interlake Steamship Co. fleet, passed under the Aerial Lift Bridge at

9:18 a.m. and made it about halfway through the ice pack before becoming stuck.

The 826-foot vessel had been docked at Fraser Shipyards in Superior and was headed to Two Harbors to load iron ore pellets.

The Coast Guard Cutter Alder went to the Tregurtha's assistance at about 10:30 a.m.

Then the Alpena, on its way back to Alpena, Mich., after dropping off a load of cement, followed at 1:15 p.m.

The three vessels remained more or less ice-bound most of the day. Cmdr. Kevin Wirth of the Alder said difficult conditions made for slow progress.

A mass of ice chunks was driven into the shore by strong east winds Tuesday, creating a formidable impediment to freighters.

"It looks like all the ice has piled into this end of the lake," Wirth said.

The Alder finally punched through the ice about 3:30 p.m. The Tregurtha followed about

40 minutes later, and the Alpena was the last out about another 30 to 40 minutes later.

Wirth described the ice as refrozen brash with snow cover that creates additional friction for boats. Alder encountered conditions that ranged from 18-inch plate ice to pack ice 20 to 24 inches thick.

"It's all under pressure from the wind," Wirth said. "I think a lot of this blew off the South Shore."

Other Coast Guard vessels were en route to the Twin Ports to assist, including the Biscayne Bay, a 140-foot cutter, and the Mackinaw, a 240-foot icebreaker. However, Wirth believes the Biscayne Bay, which is expected to arrive at daybreak today, and the Alder will be up to the task of breaking out a shipping lane, making a visit from the Mackinaw unlikely.

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