These are pivotal times with a strong focus on expansion for Interlake Steamship Company, a leading U.S. shipping enterprise on the Great Lakes which started the construction last June of the first U.S.-flagged Great Lakes bulk carrier in more than three decades. Named after the company president, the Mark W. Barker is scheduled to enter commercial service during the 2022 navigation season.

Partly completed Mark W. Barker being floated back to drydock earlier this spring. (Photo by Interlake Steamship Company.)
Partly completed Mark W. Barker being floated back to drydock earlier this spring. (Photo by Interlake Steamship Company.)

In another significant development in the last week of December 2020, Interlake Holding Company acquired the assets of Pere Marquette Shipping Company and Lake Michigan Car Ferry Company that included an articulated tug-barge and a historic passenger-and-car ferry. The acquisition ushered in the creation of a new business entity, Interlake Maritime Services, which manages the new businesses along with Interlake Steamship and its fleet of nine freighters.

Tracing its origins back to 1913, family–owned Interlake Steamship, now based in Middleburg Heights, OH handles some 20 million tons per year of iron ore, aggregates, limestone, coal and other bulk commodities. It, in fact, operates nearly one fifth of the 52 vessels in the U.S. flag fleet on the Great Lakes. Its fleet primarily delivers iron pellets from the Michigan and Minnesota ranges to steel mills on the Lower Lakes, most operated by Cleveland Cliffs.

At the keel laying ceremony at the Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding facility in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, Mark Barker, son of chairman James Barker, did not hide his emotion. “It is truly amazing,” he said, “to have a ship that is built here in Wisconsin and made from steel from Indiana that came from iron ore mined in Minnesota with U.S. crews, U.S. workers, and U.S. miners all doing this for our great Country.”  

The new River-Class, self-unloading bulk carrier measures 639 feet in length (78 feet W, 45 feet H, 28,000 DWT) and will transport raw materials such as salt, iron ore, and stone to support manufacturing throughout the Great Lakes region.

The Interlake Steamship Company, Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding and Bay Engineering jointly designed the bulk carrier, complete with advanced vessel and unloading systems automation. Scheduled for completion in mid-2022, the carrier is being built by FBS’s nearly 700 trade workers and will generate business for partnering contractors, vendors and suppliers. Major partners for the project include: American Bureau of Shipping (ABS); ArcelorMittal, Bay Engineering (BEI); EMD Engines; Caterpillar; EMS-Tech, Inc.; Lufkin (a GE Company), Kongsberg and MacGregor.