This ice-covered, 1,000-foot freighter will hibernate in the Twin Ports

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If you couldn't tell by the ice on the ships – it's winter time on the Great Lakes.

The American Integrity became the first ship to enter winter layup in the Port of Duluth-Superior Wednesday, according to Duluth Shipping News.

The 1,000-foot freighter that hauls coal for the American Steamship Company is one of seven ships expected to spend the winter in the Twin Ports this year, Duluth Shipping News notes.

The rest of the ships are expected to arrive next week, Duluth Seaway Port Authority spokeswoman Adele Yorde told the Duluth News Tribune.

While in winter layup, the ships will be readied for the 2015 shipping season. U.S.-flag Great Lakes vessel operators plan to spend $75 million preparing the ships for spring, according to the Lake Carriers' Association (LCA).

A significant portion of that is expected to be spent in the Twin Ports, Northland's NewsCenter reports. Fraser Shipyards, where some of the vessels will spend the winter, plans to double its employees to handle winter repairs for the self-unloading ships.

Other vessels will be docked at the Enbridge and Midwest Energy docks until the Soo Locks – which close Jan. 15 – reopen March 25, the Duluth News Tribune says. The next time the ships leave the port, they'll be carrying the first cargo of the 2015 shipping season.

“Whoever lays up at the coal dock in Superior will leave with a load of coal,” Yorde told the Duluth News Tribune. “The others may load iron ore or coal or might even leave here for Two Harbors for a load of iron ore there.”

The "beginning of the end" to the 2014 shipping season began Dec. 20, when the last "saltie" (a ship headed for the ocean) left the Twin Ports, the Duluth Seaway Port Authority said.

Last year's shipping season was a rough one. The deep freeze on the Great Lakes cost the economy more than $700 million and nearly 4,000 jobs, the LCA said this week.

It also forced vessel operators to spend an unexpected $6 million last spring to repair ice damage on their ships – that's why the LCA is requesting additional ice breaking fleets for 2015.

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