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Frozen waterways challenge Coast Guard

Waterways from Pittsburgh to Maine are dealing with colder-than-normal weather and that has created challenges for boat traffic, as well as for the Coast Guard, the group tasked with keeping channels passable.

In the Boston area, vast stretches of frozen seawater evident this winter are unlike anything local mariners can remember.

So much of the vital waterways into the area has frozen that commerce has slowed, passenger ferries have been canceled, the hull of a Coast Guard tender was pierced and critical buoys indicating dangerous shoals and bends have become unmoored, according to The Boston Globe.

“This winter has definitely been one of the worst,” Petty Officer Ross Ruddell, a spokesman for the Coast Guard in Boston, told The Globe. “We’re definitely approaching records for the amount of ice formed and broken.”

The Coast Guard has deployed two of its ships to break ice in the harbor, a Sisyphean task that since December has required repeated trips from the inner harbor in Boston to Hull Bay.

The work has been so demanding that last week the Coast Guard cutter Pendant cracked its hull on the ice. Divers had to install a concrete patch on the bottom of the ship; it was back in service before the end of the day.

“This reflects what can happen to a boat that isn’t made to run into things,” Ruddell said. “When you hit hard, thick, sharp ice, it can put you in a dangerous position.”

Some areas have seen important navigation buoys frozen over and sunken to a point at which a ship’s radar cannot pick them up. Large floes have unmoored others.

Along the Hudson River, a 140-foot Coast Guard icebreaker called Sturgeon Bay is crunching up ice at least once a day, according to The New York Times.

From New York Harbor to Albany, the Hudson River wends, ebbs and flows over 120 miles, except when it doesn’t. Right now north of West Point, the river is captive to the wind and weather, a field of ice as much as 1.5 feet thick.

Barges on the Hudson transport 70 percent of the home heating oil in the Northeast. Last year, barges brought 20 million barrels of it northward, as well as 100,000 tons of dry goods, such as salt and cement.