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First inland vacuum-based mooring system installed on St. Lawrence Seaway locks

Aug 26, 2015 02:08 PM
A hands-free mooring system, using vacuum pads mounted on steel arms, is installed at the St. Lawrence Seaway’s Beauharnois Lock No. 4 near Montreal. It’s the first such system in an inland waterway.

Courtesy St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp.

A hands-free mooring system, using vacuum pads mounted on steel arms, is installed at the St. Lawrence Seaway’s Beauharnois Lock No. 4 near Montreal. It’s the first such system in an inland waterway.

The installation of hands-free mooring systems at all 15 of the St. Lawrence Seaway’s locks will increase efficiency, speed transit times and attract a wider client base, according to seaway officials.

The system — the first of its kind in an inland waterway — locks ships into place using vacuum pads that are mounted on steel arms and move up and down with the ship as it is raised or lowered, while keeping it at a fixed distance from the lock wall.

It’ll be an upgrade from traditional mooring methods, which are time consuming, labor intensive and potentially dangerous when heavy, steel mooring lines break, said Jim Athanasiou, general manager of business improvement for St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. (SLSMC).

“Eliminating people from that environment, you eliminate a fatality,” said Marcelo Gonzalez, managing director of Cavotec Canada Inc., SLSMC’s supplier.

Crewmembers are seriously injured or killed every year due to mooring accidents.

“With hands-free mooring, all that manipulation of the cable is eliminated,” said Athanasiou. “Because now what happens is the vessel comes into the lock, it stops — we’ve identified zones where each vessel has to stop — and once it stops, we activate the system.”

After communicating with the captain, the operator deploys the hydraulic arms that attach to the vessel using suction packs, each of which provides up to 20 tons of holding force. Every automated lock has six suction packs. 

The system will provide faster transit for seaway vessels. On a two-way transit — up and down — the hands-free system shaves off approximately seven minutes per lock, said Athanasiou. That’s nearly two hours of potential time savings once installation through the entire system is complete.

So far, systems have been installed at three locks in the Montreal region and two in the Niagara region, said Gonzalez. By 2018, all 15 of the seaway’s locks — 13 in Canada and two in the U.S. — will be automated.

The implementation of Cavotec’s equipment means vessel operators will no longer need to equip their ships with seaway-specific fittings, like roller fairleads, since there will be no winching process. Stakeholders believe this will make the Seaway, an essential trade link between the Atlantic Ocean and Great Lakes, even more attractive.

“This will increase our access to the global fleet,” said Bruce Hodgson, director of market development for SLSMC. “Easing access to the seaway carries the prospect of bringing more tonnage into our locks.”

Athanasiou said the only vessels not currently compatible with the new system are those with insufficient freeboard or those that have a steep angle, like some Coast Guard vessels.

The SLSMC recently received recognition for the innovative project. On May 28 in Leipzig, Germany, during the 2015 Summit of Transport Ministers, the corporation was presented with the Promising Innovation in Transport Award from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for developing the world’s first hands-free mooring system for ships transiting its locks.

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