Fraser Shipyards, Inc.

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Building on the Past

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Duluth News Tribune
Celebrating 125 years.

Coast Guard Vessels get summer tune-up at Fraser

June 15, 2009

Coast Guard vessels get summer tuneup at Fraser

Fraser Shipyards welcomes the work after a slower than average winter.
Workers at Fraser Shipyards are keeping busy this summer, thanks largely to a couple million dollars worth of new work it has picked up from the U.S. Coast Guard. The Superior shipyard expects this week to finish repairs to the Mackinaw — the Coast Guard’s largest icebreaker on the Great Lakes — and Fraser has appointments to move the cutters Alder and Hollyhock
into drydock next. “We’re seeing a fairly significant increase in revenue for the summer because of the Coast Guard work,” said Gene Walroos, Fraser Shipyards’ general manager. “We’ve done work for the Coast Guard in the past, but it hasn’t been frequent,” he said. That’s changing as Fraser has begun to actively pursue Coast Guard work. This is the Mackinaw’s first time at Fraser. The vessel’s predecessor, the original Mackinaw, last called on Fraser in the late 1990s. Up until now, the modern Mack has primarily turned to a shipyard in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., for repairs and maintenance. “It’s nice to see another Great Lakes shipyard pursuing Coast Guard work,” said Coast Guard Cmdr. Scott Smith. “It’s always good to have options.” Smith said the Mackinaw required emergency repairs when its starboard Azipod developed a small leak. The
icebreaker has two Azipod thrusters — each with a 360-degree turning radius — that are used to propel and position the vessel. “These are ice-breaking vessels. And that work puts a lot of wear and tear on our ships,” said Chief Robert Lanier, assistant public affairs director for the Ninth Coast Guard District in Cleveland. The summer months are an ideal time to undertake repairs
and maintenance work to ensure that vessels are ready for action when needed, he said. Smith said Coast Guard vessels are busiest in the spring, fall and winter, tending buoys and breaking ice. Landing some summer work is good for Fraser, too. The company’s busiest time of year is during the winter layup, with work on commercial vessels typically dropping off as the shipping season begins. The shipyard’s staff drops from more than 100 people during the winter berthing
season to a core group of about 20 people during the summer months. Walroos expects he won’t need any extra staff to tackle the Coast Guard projects. The summer work is especially
welcome this year, after a lackluster winter. Of the 12 lakers that wintered in the Twin Ports this year, two never set sail — the American Victory and the Kay E. Barker. Walroos said these two vessels normally would have generated work for Fraser, but not this past winter.
Also, a number of lakers have tied up after the start of the shipping season because of the national recession and the lack of work that has resulted. Reduced wear on fleets probably will result in less demand for repairs and maintenance during the coming winter, as well.
Landing work with the Coast Guard hasn’t been easy. Fraser has had to cope with a multitude of new forms and documents associated with the government bid process.
Walroos diplomatically referred to the Coast Guard as a “particular” customer and acknowledged that dealing with the sea of paperwork has sometimes been a challenge.
But Walroos said Fraser now is beginning to benefit from a growing familiarity with the process.
Keeping Fraser, the Twin Ports’ only commercial shipyard, healthy and viable is vital to local shipping operations, said Jim Sharrow, facilities manager for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. That’s all the more important considering how busy the Duluth and Superior shipping facilities are.
“As the busiest port on the Great Lakes, Fraser is very important to us,” he said.
The shipyard is equally important during the off-season for lakers, said Andy Lisak, executive director of the Development Association, a group determined to promoting economic growth in Northwestern Wisconsin.
“Because of Fraser, we see vessels wintering here, and every vessel represents a significant amount of income,” Lisak said.
“Without Fraser, much of that work would go elsewhere.”
Each laker undergoes about $500,000 to $800,000 worth of work during a normal winter lay-up.