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      Coast Guard cutter clears icy path for commerce

      The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Mackinaw is breaking the ice to help clear shipping lanes for traveling boats.

      Ice shatters at the sight of the United States Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw.

      This 240-foot vessel plows through the frozen lake with ease. But the same can't be said for other ships traveling the great lakes.

      "We do our best to keep those routes open but we can't because of shifting ice, then we will escort large vessels as they make their way through ice choked areas," USCG Cutter Mackinaw Operations Officer Lt. Stephen Elliot said.

      After routes are cleared they disappear within hours. The unique conditions of the Straights of Mackinac make it especially difficult to keep shipping lanes open.

      "The wind blows the ice so it closes right up that's what makes the straits challenging," USCG Cutter Mackinaw Captain Cmdr. Michael Devanzo explained.

      The Mackinaw is one of nine cutters that patrol the Great Lakes each winter. The Coast Guard's main concern is keeping ship traffic moving which is vital to our local economies.

      Great Lakes shipping generates more than two billion dollars each year, but this year's winter has created traveling conditions which are less than ideal for ships working to transport natural resources.

      "Last year we had very little ice in the straights and in the river. This year we are already seeing eight to ten inches of ice," Cmdr. Devanzo said.

      The Cutter Mackinaw has been breaking up ice since the beginning of the year and the staff of 60 will be working around the clock until the spring to keep the shipping afloat.

      EXTRA: The view aboard the Cutter Mackinaw