Spring (shipping season) arrives in Port of Duluth

The Mesabi Miner loads coal for shipment to Marquette, Mich. It will return to pick up iron ore this weekend.

Spring in northern Minnesota has officially begun, despite the bitter cold, blowing snow and ice-snared harbor. Today the ship Mesabi Miner departs from the Port of Duluth and Superior by way of a channel carved by an ice cutter last week.

Just like in the National Basketball Association, the Lakers always get going around March.

Would you like to know more about the many springtime ships of Duluth and their cargo? Sure you would.

2013 shipping season gets underway in Port of Duluth-Superior

Duluth, Minn., USA (March 18, 2013) — U.S.-flag lakers will begin moving in the Port of Duluth-Superior this week as the 2013 commercial shipping season gets underway on the far western edge of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system. The Mesabi Miner is expected to be the port’s first departure of the season, set for late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

The Miner is scheduled to begin loading coal Tuesday morning (March 19) at the Superior Midwest Energy Terminal after which the 1,000-footer will move to the Port Terminal to load and install a drive motor for its conveyor system prior to making a cross-lake delivery to Marquette. She’ll return to Duluth over the weekend to load iron ore at the CN dock then head to Indiana Harbor. The Canadian-flag CSL Tadoussac is also set to head to Duluth this weekend (from winter layup in Thunder Bay) to load iron ore pellets at CN.

Crews reported for fit-out last week to get many wintering vessels set to sail. Two U.S. Coast Guard cutters (Alder and Mackinaw) along with Heritage Marine tugs have been busy breaking ice to open shipping channels and slips around the harbor in preparation for not only the Miner getting underway, but also the Roger Blough, Indiana Harbor and American Century by end of this week. Cutter Biscayne Bay will join in icebreaking operations later this week, as well.

The departing lakers will secure their places in line with other downbound traffic near Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., to await the reopening of the Soo Locks for the 2013 season at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, March 25. Likewise, there will be a line-up of upbound lakers on the eastern side of the Locks, led by the Paul R. Tregurtha, which means the Twin Ports will likely see regular marine traffic patterns by end of the month (including the American Spirit, scheduled to depart her winter berth in Superior late next week).

The Soo Locks are the gateway that allows lake carriers – some measuring more than 1,000 feet in length – to move raw materials like iron ore, coal, limestone, cement and salt between Lake Superior and Lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie. It is also one of 16 sets of locks along the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway (GLSLS) that allows oceangoing ships (“salties”) to move breakbulk and project cargoes in and out of North America’s heartland and deliver Midwestern grains to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

“We ended the 2012 season having moved just shy of 37 million short tons of cargo through the Port of Duluth-Superior,” noted Adolph Ojard, Duluth Seaway Port Authority executive director, “nearly on par with the previous year. If the U.S. steel market remains strong and the resurgence of manufacturing in and around the Great Lakes basin continues, iron ore shipments should keep a strong pace. Projections for coal exports are up, plus the extension of wind production tax credits should see project cargoes pick up by fall. Depending on weather patterns and global economies, we’d also hope for marginal improvements in grain exports. All in all, the Port of Duluth-Superior should see an increase in activity during 2013.”

It’s a bit harder to predict the arrival of the Port’s first oceangoing vessel to transit the full GLSLS. The Seaway locks (the Montreal/Lake Ontario section and Welland Canal) will reopen for business on March 22, but it may take awhile for Duluth-Superior to see its first saltie. That “first ship” to pass beneath the Aerial Lift Bridge will be greeted by maritime officials with a welcoming ceremony and will also qualify a winner for the annual “First Ship Contest” sponsored by the Duluth Seaway Port Authority and Visit Duluth. Last year, the Port’s first saltie, the Arubaborg, arrived on April 10.

Of the vessels that arrived in January to winter in the Twin Ports for repair and maintenance, the John G. Munson and John J. Boland will remain docked until markets pick up pace this season and their services are required. The American Victory and Edward L. Ryerson remain in long-term layup at Fraser Shipyards.

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