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Emergency Preparedness

The risk of an accident exists in any industry.  To reduce that risk, the Great Lakes-Seaway marine industry works in partnership with federal, state/provincial and local government to develop contingency plans to be prepared in the event of marine emergencies. Given the bi-national nature of these waters, the U.S. and Canada have a number of formal cooperative agreements.  These plans are continuously tested, evaluated, and improved.


All ships entering the Great Lakes-Seaway system must have a detailed emergency plan on board, containment booms, and other equipment to deal with possible incidents.  Vessel operators in Canadian waters must contract with a government-approved emergency response company to help them in the event of a spill from their fuel tanks or cargo holds. Ships in the U.S. waters must also have agreements with government-verified private contractors to aid in pollution clean-up or salvage in the event of an incident.  Shipowners are responsible for clean-up costs associated with vessel incidents.

St. Lawrence Seaway

U.S. and Canadian Seaway employees hold emergency response exercises every year. These drills include simulations of a wide range of emergency scenarios and are carried out in conjunction with the Coast Guards, federal, state/provincial and local governments, and stakeholders. In the event of an emergency within its boundaries, Seaway staff are trained to halt lock operations, minimize the spread of any pollutants that might arise, and to notify all relevant parties.


Ports have emergency preparedness plans that involve notifying all relevant response agencies and local authorities of incidents when necessary. Often the first on the scene, port officials act as the "eyes on the ground,” keeping the Coast Guards informed of the nature of the incident and what resources might be needed.

Coast Guards

The U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards are the lead players in the response for commercial marine shipping incidents in the Great Lakes.  The Coast Guards monitor how a shipowner is handling an incident, provide assistance if necessary with emergency equipment, and liaise with other government departments and local agencies and emergency personnel as appropriate. Transport Canada and the U.S. Coast Guard are also involved with overseeing the salvage operation of incidents and inspect ships to ensure they have been properly repaired following incidents, if deemed necessary.