A barge bearing the name “Ashtabula” made its first delivery as such on the Great Lakes during the past weekend.

The Ashtabula, working in conjunction with the tug Defiance, delivered a cargo of sand to Buffalo on Nov. 3, according to an online article by Tom Hynes and posted at boatnerd.com.

Originally built for the phosphate transportation trade in the Gulf of Mexico, the barge was christened the Erol Y. Beker, founder and president of Beker Industries and Beker Phosphate Corporation. The barge was launched April 22, 1982, by Bay Shipbuilding of Sturgeon Bay, Wisc.

At 610 feet in length, the barge is as large as some of the older Great Lakes freighters. It has a beam of 78 feet and depth of 51 feet.

Its companion tug was constructed by the Marinette Marine Corp. of Marinette, Wisc. It was christened the April T. Beker, after the wife of Erol Baker.

Because it was intended for ocean use, the barge had a deep hull that could be loaded to a depth of 36 feet. It had a relatively short unloading boom, but its  hatch covers were larger than are typically found on Great Lakes ships, according to Hynes.

The 145-foot-long tug was designed to work in tandem with the barge; the tug’s bow has heavy rubber fendering to protect it. They are technically known as an “articulated tug/barge vessel,” or ATB.

Working a route between Tampa Bay and the lower Mississippi River, the barge carried phosphate westbound and coal on the eastbound trip. The coal was destined for power plants operated by Tampa Electric. A subsidiary of that company, Gulfcoast Transit Company, purchased the barge and tug in 1987, after Beker Industries filed for bankruptcy. The barge was renamed Mary Turner and the tug Beverly Anderson.

The Mary Turner went aground on at least five occasions. The tug’s most serious incident was an engine room fire in 1992; one of the tug’s engineers was severely burned.

Rand Logistics, Inc., acquired the ATB on Dec. 1, 2011, and announced plans to convert it to Great Lakes use. The modifications began in May. The tug and barge operate under the fleet colors of the Lower Lakes Towing/Grand River Navigation company, a Rand subsidiary.

“The Ashtabula is a versatile vessel that will augment our river-class capabilities with sufficient carrying capacity to allow for increased market penetration in the mid-class vessel segment of the Great Lakes market,” said Scott Bravener, president of Lower Lakes. “The addition of the Ashtabula has allowed us to gain additional market share in several end markets.”

Bravener noted that the Lower Lakes fleet is fully booked for the balance of the 2012 season and the 2013 sailing season.

The Ashtabula’s maiden voyage was from Brevort, Mich., to Buffalo.

The pair operate under the U.S. Jones Act, which reserves domestic waterborne commerce to vessels that are U.S. owned, built and crewed, and the Canada Coasting Trade Act, which reserves domestic waterborne commerce to Canadian registered and crewed vessels that operate between Canadian ports.

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