Welland Canal closed after fiery crash (August 13, 2001)

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ALLANBURG, Ont. — Nearly a dozen ships are hung up in the Welland Canal, unable to cross through the international link thanks to the ongoing cleanup of a fiery crash.

The Welland Canal, which joins the St. Lawrence Seaway’s Lakes Ontario and Erie, was closed this weekend after a 222-metre long vessel loaded with 26,000 tonnes of wheat ploughed into a moving bridge.

According to Michel Drolet, Niagara Region vice-president of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., Vessel traffic isn’t expected to resume until at least tonight.

“Ships all have schedules to meet and we’re doing our best to accommodate that,” Drolet tells local media. “This year we cannot afford to be slowing down traffic — we need all the business, all the ships that we can get through the system.”

Police said the rear portion of the Windoc ship burst into flames when a lift-bridge was lowered, shearing off the vessel’s smokestack and wheelhouse. The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident.

The Welland Canal ties together the St. Lawrence Seaway, a critical 3,700-kilometre transportation waterway that links central Canada with the Atlantic Ocean.

“Our intention is to get back in business as soon as we can,” Drolet said.

The waterway system ties western grain farmers to markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Shippers may remember this is not the first time vessels have been stuck due to complications on the canal.

According to the Canadian Press, one of the most serious delays occurred Thanksgiving Day in 1984, when a portion of a canal lock caved in, closing the waterway for 23 days and stranding at least 130 ships.

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