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 Detroit River

Mike Nicholls   

Great Lakes Fleet Vessel Feature - Buffalo

By Glen Kingsford

The Self-Unloading Bulk Freighter Buffalo was built in 1978 by Bay Shipbuilding Co., Sturgeon Bay, WI at a cost of $25 million as Hull #721.

She was launched March 16, 1978 and was christened August 8, 1978. The Buffalo has sailed her entire career for the American Steamship Co. The Buffalo’s sea trials were conducted from August 21 through August 24, 1978. She cleared Sturgeon Bay September 23, 1978 on her maiden voyage to load ore at Escanaba, MI bound for Indiana Harbor.

Powered is provided by two 3,600 bhp single acting, two stroke cycle, V-20 cylinder diesel engines, built by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors Corp., La Grange, IL. Her engines drive a controllable pitch propeller through Falk reduction gears. Her rated service speed is 14 knots (16.1 mph). The Buffalo is equipped with both a bow and stern thruster.

The Buffalo (3) was built under Title XI of the Merchant Marine Act of 1970. This program allowed U.S. shipping companies to construct new vessels or to modernize their existing fleet by government guaranteed financing and tax deferred benefits. The Buffalo was the seventh of ten ships launched for American Steamship under this program. The total cost of the ten ships was more than $250 million. The ten ships were the: Roger Kyes (1973), Charles E. Wilson (1973), H. Lee White (1974), Sam Laud (1975), St. Clair (1976), Belle River (1977), Buffalo (1978), Indiana Harbor (1979), American Mariner (1980) and the American Republic (1981).

On Sunday morning September 6, 1990 at approximately 0800, the Buffalo, traveling upstream on the Saginaw River, passed the Jupiter which was unloading gasoline at the Total Petroleum dock near Bay City, MI. The ship’s passing caused a suction which pulled the Jupiter away from the dock. The aft pilings subsequently broke away and the parting fuel lines caused a spark which resulted in a fire which totally destroyed the tanker. One of the Jupiter’s crew was lost overboard. The U.S. Coast Guard report linked the Buffalo as one of a series of events that led to the disaster but was not the sole cause. The Buffalo was trapped upstream until October 19th when the river was reopened to traffic.

In late 1997 the Buffalo struck the Detroit River Light, located in Lake Erie that marks the entrance into the Detroit River. It was headed from Detroit to Cleveland at the time of the collision in weather conditions reported as clear with waves measuring two to three feet.

The collision ripped a 25-foot gash across the bow of the freighter which took on water, but was considered seaworthy enough to proceed to the CSX coal dock in Toledo. Damage to the lighthouse was minimal, involving only the structure's rock and stone foundation. 

The Buffalo was sent for repairs at the Toledo ship yard. Once in dry dock the full extent of the damage was reveled, the bow had been pushed in like tin can. In the subsequent Coast Guard Investigation the accident would be blamed on human error.

Overall dimensions
Length 634'10"
Beam 68'00"
Depth 40'00"
Capacity (tons) 23,800 tons
Diesel engines horsepower 7,200
Self-unloading boom 251'06"


Buffalo passes the Joseph H. Frantz with the E.M. Ford looking on in Saginaw. Stephen Hause

Unloading. Dick Lund

Freight delivery. N. Schultheiss

Crew change. N. Schultheiss

Mail boat returns to station. N. Schultheiss

Grounding in Marquette 2000. William H. Rigby

Under repair after hitting the Detroit River Light.
N. Schultheiss Collection

Another view. N. Schultheiss Collection

Arriving for repairs. N. Schultheiss Collection

Inbound Green Bay Wendell Wilke

Stern View. Mike Nicholls

Rouge River. Wade P. Streeter

Passing Grassy Island. Mike Nicholls

Stern view. Mike Nicholls

Unloading in Erie, PA. Jeff Thoreson

Stern view departing Erie.  Jeff Thoreson

Saginaw River. Todd Shorkey

In Buffalo. Brian Wroblewski

Stern view at Lorain. TZ

Toledo lay-up. Jim Hoffman

Loading. Luke Collection

bow thruster on the Saginaw River. Todd Shorkey

Departing Sturgeon Bay ship canal. Orrin Royce

Detroit River. Mike Nicholls

Icy bow. Scott Golin

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