Duluth, Minn., USA — March 16, 2011 ----- Local maritime traffic through the Port of Duluth-Superior is set to commence tomorrow (March 17) with the scheduled afternoon departure of the season’s first laker, the James R. Barker. Having spent winter layup at MERC’s Superior Midwest Energy Terminal, the vessel will be loaded with coal headed for Presque Isle, Mich. This is the third consecutive year that the Barker has been the first outbound vessel; she departed last year on March 20.
One more entry in the Duluth-Superior record books will be made shortly after the Soo Locks open on March 25, when the Port’s first inbound laker arrives after having transited those locks. Early indicators point to the night of March 26 (or early morning March 27) as the official start to the 2011 Great Lakes commercial navigation season in the Twin Ports. The Soo Locks, located at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., are the gateway that allows huge lakers to moving raw materials like iron ore, coal, limestone, cement and salt between Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes.
In advance of the locks opening, operators will fit-out five other lakers that wintered in Duluth-Superior and plan to sail this season, including: American Century, American Integrity, John G. Munson, Roger Blough, and American Spirit. All are currently scheduled to load/depart between March 23-25. Some final repairs need to be completed on the H. Lee White prior to sailing in mid-April; three other lakers (American Victory, Adam E. Cornelius and Edward L. Ryerson) are not scheduled to sail at this time and will remain at Fraser Shipyards.
A handful of lakers are already “on the move” on Lakes Michigan and Huron (e.g. Great Lakes Trader, Philip R. Clarke, Joseph L. Block) – shuttling pellets across those lakes to replenish critically low iron ore inventories at steel mills.
It’s a bit harder to predict the arrival of the Port’s first oceangoing vessel – the first “saltie” to transit the full St. Lawrence Seaway. The Seaway locks (the Montreal/Lake Ontario section and the Welland Canal) will reopen for business this season on March 22, but the Port of Duluth-Superior won’t see its first saltie arrive for a few weeks. 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 was the Federal Elbe on April 7; the previous year it was the Medemborg on April 12. The Port’s earliest recorded arrival of an oceangoing ship was the Indian-flagged LT Argosy on April 1, 1995.
“Overall tonnage for the Port of Duluth-Superior was up 28 percent at the close of the 2010 navigation season compared to the previous year when we were hardest hit by the recession,” noted Adolph Ojard, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. “Led by an 80 percent rebound in iron ore shipments for steelmaking, the Port also saw strong performances in limestone, coal and wind turbine components, coupled with a 68 percent surge in grain exports. As long as consumer confidence continues to improve and this nation’s economic recovery can be sustained, we should see another strong navigation season in 2011 and continue to build back to more typical season averages over the course of the next couple of years.”
You can track shipping coming and going from the Port of Duluth Superior on our AIS shipping tracking system.
James R. Barker, first outbound laker from the Port of Duluth-Superior again this year. - Photo by Mary T. George