Duluth Lakers play zone outside harbor

Basketball fans sometimes wonder, what the heck is a Los Angeles Laker? The well informed might know that this once venerated (now down-on-its-luck) franchise used to be the Minneapolis Lakers, though that still doesn’t tell most what a Laker is.

A laker is a ship or vessel confined to a freshwater lake or lake system. And in Minnesota, lakers are a big part of our economy.

That’s why images like this are so striking:

That’s a full basketball team of enormous ships. Sports commentator would call them “bigs.”

At one time this week as many as nine Great Lakes freighters, or “lakers,” were stuck outside the Duluth harbor. The iron ore loading docks experience slow-downs in the extreme cold of a Minnesota winter. Among other problems, iron ore pellets tend to stick together when temperatures reach well below zero. All of the ships you see in the picture were here to load iron ore.

Loading docks are working through their issues, slowly. Fortunately, there is hope that the logjam, or “orejam,” breaks today and tomorrow, allowing the ships to load up and head to the steel towns of the lower Great Lakes.

The delay has already caused several ships to cancel their final run before the end of the Lake Superior shipping season. This costs shipping customers and the ships themselves to lose money.

It’s not an ideal close to the season, but it’s been a strong year for shipping on Lake Superior. From dramatic improvements to iron ore shipping, to hot demand for grains and other commodity, the Port of Duluth-Superior has enjoyed a banner 2017 season.


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