In the November issue, we dealt at length with the blockade of the Welland Canal which resulted when, on October 14, the west wall of Lock 7 collapsed just as the salt-water vessel FURIA was preparing to leave the lock, downbound. We also commented upon the repair procedures that had been commenced, and we noted that the Seaway was hoping to have the canal back in operation on November 6th. When that day came, several possible opening times were put forward, but none were met, for the contractors were still in the course of removing their equipment from the area. Finally, at 5:50 a.m. on November 7th, traffic once again began to move through the system, twenty-four days after the original accident. Some 135 ships were waiting for passage, having been assigned "wait list" priority numbers even if they had put into various ports to wait out the delay. The Seaway worked very hard to clear the backlog of vessels, and the last of the waiting ships finally passed through the Welland six days after the canal reopened.
As matters now stand, the area behind the west wall of Lock 7 is still excavated, and the canal road closed, while the cause of the accident is investigated. Engineers have been retained to conduct an exhaustive study of the condition of all of the Welland Canal locks in an effort to prevent any further problems. The Seaway has agreed to keep the canals open as long as weather conditions permit in an effort to help shippers recoup at least a part of the substantial losses that they incurred whilst their vessels were tied up during the Blockade.
The month of November had not passed, however, before the Seaway was once again closed! During the mid-morning of Friday, November 29th, the Indian salty JALA. GODAVARI was downbound in the Beauharnois Canal, en route from Toronto to New York City. Allegedly as a result of a steering failure, she managed to miss completely the draw of the St. Louis railroad and highway bridge, which is located some twenty-five miles west of Montreal, and not far from the Larocque Bridge which was the cause of the Great Seaway Blockade of the autumn of 1984. JALA. GODAVARI somehow stuck her bow between two of the dolphins in the approach to the south side of the lift span, and knocked a sixty-foot section of the fixed portion of the bridge into the St. Lawrence River. Four cars, which had been waiting for the bridge, were dumped into the water, and although their occupants were rescued, two persons were taken to hospital, suffering from hypothermia as a result of exposure to the cold waters.
JALA GODAVARI managed to squeeze herself almost half-way through the fixed span, with her stern angled out into the draw. The legs of the south tower of the lift span were splayed outwards, and authorities feared that the entire structure might collapse. Indeed, those at the scene were undecided whether what was holding the structure up was the bracing provided by the raised lift span, or the fact that the vessel's hull was firmly wedged against the south tower.
At the time of this writing, it was not known how extensive repairs would need to be, nor was it known whether JALA. GODAVARI could be extricated from her predicament without bringing the entire bridge down into the river. To make matters worse, the damaged bridge tower was completely isolated from the shore with the adjacent section of the fixed span down. It was announced that the Beauharnois section of the Seaway would be completely closed to traffic until at least December 2nd (some observers anticipated a much longer closure), and fears began to be expressed that 95 salt-water vessels then in the lakes might be trapped there for the winter. It also meant additional bad news for lake shippers who already had sustained grave financial losses in the Welland Canal Blockade, and whose ships were once again forming waiting lines for canal transit.
It seems inconceivable that there could be major Seaway Blockades in two successive years, much less two in the same year or even two within a month and a half. This, however, is exactly what has happened. We must now face the incontrovertible fact that any major accident on either the St. Lawrence or Welland sections of the Seaway is likely to result in a shutdown of the entire system and millions of dollars in losses for the shipping industry, and in addition that there is very little that can be done to prevent such an occurrence. Did so many years of uninterrupted vessel passages lure us into a false sense of security, or is "Murphy" really working overtime?
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.