Grand Haven saw one freighter visit this past week, and that was the motor vessel Mississagi of Lower Lakes Towing.
The Canadian vessel called on the Verplank dock Tuesday afternoon with a split cargo of stone grades from Meldrum Bay and Bruce Mines, Ontario. Before midnight, the Mississagi was outbound for Lake Michigan.
Built in 1943, the Mississagi is the oldest operating Canadian-flagged vessel in service on the Great Lakes. It was built by Great Lakes Engineering Works of Ecorse as the Hill Annex and was one of 16 Maritime-class ships.
Maritime-class vessels were built by the U.S. Maritime Commission to assist shipping companies in fleet renewal. The Hill Annex and two other Maritimers were sold to the U.S. Steel Corp. and, in exchange, the steel company retired six vessels that were older and smaller.
The Hill Annex was rechristened George A. Sloan by the steelmaker, and it joined the large fleet of “tin stackers” plying the inland seas. The nickname comes from the silver smokestacks that U.S. Steel vessels have. George A. Sloan was a prominent citizen of New York and a director of U.S. Steel at the time.
The Sloan was transferred over to the Michigan Limestone-owned Bradley Transportation Co. in 1966. Michigan Limestone was a division of U.S. Steel. The Sloan would now work specifically in the stone trade, and was converted to a self-unloader over the 1965-66 winter.
U.S. Steel absorbed the Bradley fleet in 1967. The arrival of 1,000-foot vessels to the steelmaker’s fleet idled many smaller ships to scrap.
The Sloan’s self-unloading conversion gave the vessel more versatility and is likely why it avoided getting scrapped when so many of its U.S. Steel fleetmates were sent to the breakers.
In 2000, Great Lakes Fleet (the remains of the company that was once U.S. Steel) sold the Sloan to Lower Lakes Towing Ltd. (LLT). The vessel was renamed Mississagi and reflagged Canadian. Its namesake is the Mississagi Strait located in Lake Huron.
Two other GLF ships were sold to LLT’s U.S. affiliate, Grand River Navigation. Those ships, the Myron C. Taylor (renamed Calumet) and Calcite II (renamed Maumee), served GRN for several seasons before they were scrapped in 2009 and 2011, respectively. The names Calumet and Maumee are both in use on active ships in the fleet today.
The Mississagi continues to be a valuable asset for Lower Lakes Towing, working to serve customers in small ports and constricting rivers. Despite this, the Mississagi is on borrowed time.
Earlier this week, Rand Logistics, the parent company of LLT, announced the purchase of the former American Valor, a 767-foot steamship that has been idle for more than 10 years. While not confirmed, it is likely that Lower Lakes will repower the vessel and place it back in service.
With another vessel entering the LLT fleet, boatwatchers are concerned about the Mississagi’s future. It has outlived a lot of vessels, but its age makes it a prime candidate for scrapping, possibly as soon as the shipping season is over. The Mississagi has been a common sight in Grand Haven during its career, so catch the freighter while you still can.