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Opening Day 2021 in Port of Duluth-Superior as First Saltie Arrives

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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Federal Biscay, a 656-foot bulk carrier owned by Montreal-based Fednav, will earn the first ship distinction of 2021 in Duluth, Minnesota, completing the season's first full transit of the St. Lawrence Seaway en route to the Great Lakes' westernmost port, Duluth-Superior Harbor. (Photo by Duluth Shipping News)

Springtime has many "opening days" when it comes to various events that were hibernating over the winter. We have already witnessed Major League Baseball's opening day on April 1, along with the first tow pushing barges through Lake Pepin on March 19 on its way to St. Paul, Minnesota, signaling the opening of the 2021 shipping season in the Upper Mississippi River.

The latest, much anticipated event took place on April 18, as the first saltie, the Federal Biscay, made it to the Duluth-Superior Harbor marking the annual opening there and also the beginning of the 2021 grain shipping season, as grain shipped from the Port of Duluth-Superior is loaded for export to Algeria, Italy and other European and North African countries.

Salties are ocean-going vessels that pick up loads from Great Lakes ports then head to Atlantic Ocean ports. Ships that are confined only on the Great Lakes are known as lakers and are able to remain in service much longer than salties. Because of the winter closure of the Soo Locks, all salties need to be through the locks ahead of the closure, which is usually around the end of December and don't return until spring when all the ice is out.

"We're excited to see Federal Biscay and excited also to welcome its cement cargo, which will help build critical infrastructure throughout North America. It's another example of how Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway shipping delivers the critical goods and raw materials of our everyday lives," said Deb DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

The ship loaded its dry bulk cargo in Canakkale, Turkey, before sailing the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System on its way to Duluth. Upon arrival through the Duluth Ship Canal, Federal Biscay will visit the CRH Cement Duluth Terminal to discharge approximately 21,000 metric tons of cement destined for use in infrastructure projects stretching from the Twin Ports to Edmonton, Alberta, noted the April 17 press release sent to DTN by the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

The first saltie's arrival each season is a reminder that the Port of Duluth-Superior is truly mid-America's gateway to the world. Located 2,342 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean, Duluth-Superior is the Great Lakes top tonnage port and one of the nation's top 20. It links North America's heartland to regional and overseas markets, enabling manufacturers and cargo owners to serve and compete in the global marketplace,


Port of Duluth-Superior 2020 grain tonnage approached 1.4 million short tons, finishing near its 2019 total and slightly above the five-season average. Combined with the record amount of wind cargo, this helped generate 85 overseas vessel arrivals to the port in 2020, equaling the 2019 total, which was the highest since 2010, noted the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

For the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System as a whole, grain tonnage jumped 27% season-over-season, helping offset drops in other cargo categories and keeping 2020 Seaway tonnage nearly level with its 2019 total.

Shipments to Duluth leave the U.S. through the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes during navigation season. North Dakota Wheat Commission website notes that approximately 7% of U.S. spring wheat and approximately 36% of the durum leaves from the ports in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway region.

"Arrival of the season's first full Seaway transit is a true sign of spring and also of the prosperity these great ships help deliver to our region," said DeLuca. For reference, the latest arrival of the port's first saltie was May 7, 2014, and the earliest was March 30, 2013.

Here is the Duluth Cam video of the Federal Biscay entering the Duluth Ship Canal Sunday, April 18:…

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