Great Lakes ships cut their way out of Duluth port

The Presque Isle is among the ships slated to leave the Port of Duluth today with assistance from ice cutting vessels.

The Presque Isle is among the ships slated to leave the Port of Duluth today with assistance from ice cutting vessels.

March in northern Minnesota is a season where spring is observed not necessarily in warmth, flowers and rain like in other places, but it other rhythmic patterns. For instance, this weekend they began chopping some big ships out of the icy prison of the Port of Duluth so they can begin the 2014 Great Lakes shipping season. These ships will begin hauling stores of iron ore to steel towns out East, and bringing back coal, while we wait for the international ships to arrive at the end of the month.

The calendar season of spring is here. The shipping season of spring is here. Be patient, the rest will come.

From the Duluth Seaway Port Authority:

First Lakers of the 2014 Shipping Season to depart Port of Duluth-Superior this weekend

Duluth, Minn. (3/21/14) – Near record-setting thick and fast ice across the Great Lakes has slowed the start of the 2014 navigation season. However, traffic is set to start moving in the Port of Duluth-Superior as early as midday tomorrow – Sat., March 22 – with the anticipated departure of two Great Lakes Fleet carriers: the Cason J. Callaway and the Presque Isle. Both will head to Two Harbors, where they will load iron ore pellets bound for steel mills on the Lower Lakes. Plans are to have a third fleet mate that wintered in the Twin Ports – the John G. Munson – join them in Two Harbors to load on Sunday or Monday. All three vessels are operated by Key Lakes, Inc., and all have reinforced hulls able to withstand significant ice pressure here at the Head of the Lakes.

Those three lakers will then await the arrival of three U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers – the Mackinaw, Morro Bay and Katmai Bay – who are currently cutting tracks across Lake Superior from the Soo Locks to Duluth. After a one-day respite to restock/refuel, the USCG units will depart, slowing down just long enough near Two Harbors to pick up and escort the GLF vessels in a convoy across the Lake and through the St. Marys River and locks at Sault Ste. Marie.

Local icebreaking assets – USCG cutter Alder and commercial tugs from Heritage Marine and Great Lakes Towing – will continue working to open up tracks here in the Duluth-Superior Harbor as the Mesabi Miner is scheduled to load coal at the Superior Midwest Energy Terminal early next week for delivery to Taconite Harbor, then return to reload for a trip to Marquette. Additional vessels that wintered over in the Twin Ports (including the Kaye E. Barker, Great Republic, American Spirit, St. Clair, Walter J. McCarthy) are fitting-out and plan to get underway within the next couple of weeks.

With ever-changing ice conditions and weather patterns, plans are to have Coast Guard assists for upbound vessel traffic as well, so terminals in the Twin Ports can expect to see the first inbound lakers arrive to load around April 1. Oceangoing (i.e. ‘saltie’) traffic will be later as locks in the far eastern end of the Seaway system aren’t set to open until March 31.

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