The first two U.S.-flag lakers are on schedule to depart the Port of Duluth-Superior Tuesday, March 22, signaling the start of the 2016 commercial shipping season at this, the farthest inland port on the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway (GLSLS) system.
Shortly after 7 a.m., the Edwin H. Gott, is scheduled to move from its winter berth at the Clure Public Marine Terminal – first to fuel, then to depart mid-morning beneath Duluth’s famed Aerial Bridge en route to the CN Dock in Two Harbors to load iron ore pellets.
Shortly thereafter, another ship in the Great Lakes Fleet, the Philip R. Clark, also will fuel and head to Two Harbors. Both vessels, with deliveries to make to steel mills on the Lower Lakes, will proceed across Lake Superior toward Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., to ‘line up’ in a downbound queue to await the opening of the Soo Locks at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, March 25. The Welland Canal opened at 8 a.m. today; the Montreal/Lake Ontario section of the St. Lawrence Seaway opens Wednesday.
Edwin H. Gott arriving in Port of Duluth-Superior early last year (Photo: Paul Scinocca)
The Paul R. Tregurtha, which spent winter layup at the Superior Midwest Energy Terminal (SMET), is scheduled to load coal there on Thursday before departing that evening for the St. Clair Power Plant in Michigan. Two additional vessels that wintered over 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.
From the list of vessels heading upbound through the Soo Locks, it looks like the Port will welcome its first two inbound lakers over the weekend with anticipated arrivals of the Stewart J. Cort and the Burns Harbor on Saturday. The first Canadian laker should arrive early next 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.”