2016 commercial shipping season gets underway in Port of Duluth-Superior

The first two U.S.-flag lakers departed the Port of Duluth-Superior March 22, signaling the start of the 2016 commercial shipping season at the farthest inland port on the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway system. The Edwin H. Gott departed beneath Duluth’s famed Aerial Bridge en route to the CN Dock in Two Harbors to fuel and load iron […]

The first two U.S.-flag lakers departed the Port of Duluth-Superior March 22, signaling the start of the 2016 commercial shipping season at the farthest inland port on the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway system.

The Edwin H. Gott departed beneath Duluth’s famed Aerial Bridge en route to the CN Dock in Two Harbors to fuel and load iron ore pellets. Shortly thereafter, another ship in the Great Lakes Fleet, the Philip R. Clark, headed to Two Harbors. Both vessels, with deliveries to steel mills on the Lower Lakes, proceeded across Lake Superior toward Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to line up in a downbound queue to await the opening of the Soo Locks March 25.

The Paul R. Tregurtha, which spent winter layup at the Superior Midwest Energy Terminal, loaded coal there March 24 before departing for the St. Clair Power Plant in Michigan. Two additional vessels that wintered in the Twin Ports—the Kaye E. Barker and the American Century—are scheduled to depart later this month. The Herbert C. Jackson, which is undergoing a major repowering project at Fraser Shipyards, won’t sail until sea trials are completed in June.

The port welcomed its first two inbound lakers March 26—the Stewart J. Cort and the Burns Harbor. The first Canadian laker should arrive this week. It’s difficult to predict with any certainty at this point in time the arrival of the port’s first saltie, which must still cross the Atlantic and transit the full length of the waterway.

The Soo Locks provide a pivotal gateway for lakers—some of which measure 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 one of a total of 16 sets of locks along the entire Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway that allow 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.

“Despite warm temps and virtually ice-free conditions across the Lakes, we couldn’t compensate for the downturn in iron ore last year. Sub-par growth in China coupled with the dumping of foreign steel into U.S. markets caused a commodity recession across the board. Those declines in production at mines and mills are reflected in overall 2015 tonnage for the Port of Duluth-Superior being off more than 12 percent last year,” said Vanta Coda, Duluth Seaway Port Authority Executive Director.

“There are still some formidable challenges along the Great Lakes, but nowhere near what the fleets were facing last year,” he added. “Our Congressional delegation led the charge in taking significant trade action in the past six months, which has made huge inroads with unfair global trade practices. We all anticipate a slow start to the 2016 shipping season as headwinds still exist in commodity pricing, but the steel market and U.S. producers should begin to stabilize this year.”

Maritime Editorial