$400,000 might keep the world's largest Viking ship from coming to Duluth


The world's largest Viking ship was supposed to arrive in the Twin Ports in time for the Tall Ships Duluth festival in August.

But now the people behind the Draken Harald Hårfagre's Expedition America 2016 say that may not happen.

It's because of the cost of waterway fees. The unexpected pilotage fees through all the Great Lakes would cost them $400,000 – a price the nonprofit group says it can't afford.

Michigan Live says pilotage fees are about $400 an hour.

The fee pays for a certified pilot to lead the ship through the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes – all ships that have traveled internationally are required by law to have a pilot, according to the United States Great Lakes Shipping Association.


The Draken, which left Norway in April to embark on the journey to America, says it will still make an appearance at the Bay City Tall Ships festival in Michigan, but the cost to go further west into the lakes is too high.

"We are still not able fund the pilotage, unless we find a solution we are unfortunately forced to leave the Great Lakes," the group says, noting it is not blaming the pilots themselves, acknowledging they're needed.

The Tall Ships Duluth Executive Producer Craig Samborski told the Star Tribune there are efforts being made to ensure the Draken can make its final three stops on its journey, including the Tall Ships Duluth, which runs from Aug. 18-21.

People have signed an online petition requesting the U.S. Coast Guard and the Great Lakes Pilotage Authority (Canada's agency that sets pilotage fees) waive the fees so the Draken can continue her journey.

Shipping companies file lawsuit

The pilotage fee is no stranger to controversy. The U.S. Coast Guard, which sets pilotage fees in the United States, is facing a lawsuit from foreign and domestic shipping companies after it raised rates this spring, Wisconsin Public Radio reported earlier this month.

The U.S. Coast Guard said upping the fees was necessary to reduce safety risks due to fatigue, but the lawsuit aims to block the raise.

The publication says ship pilots work roughly 90 days without a day off and get paid an average of $140,000 a year to guide ships safely through the Great Lakes.

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