It was a busy week for the Great Lakes as lakers moved into position to officially open the 2016 shipping season. Lakers are ships constructed for carrying cargo on the Great Lakes.
It all started on March 21 as the St. Lawrence Seaway opened two weeks earlier than normal with no ice hindering ships thanks to the warm weather.
"We certainly welcome the warmer weather," Terence Bowles, president and CEO of The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC), said in a press release. "A return to an opening in the third week of March provides our clients with the opportunity to move cargo in a timely manner, and make the most of the navigation season,"
In terms of the outlook for 2016, Bowles noted that a lower Canadian dollar may spur more Canadian exports this year. "The combination of a rebound in Canadian manufacturing activity, a solid U.S. economy, and the prospect of more trade with Europe brings about several catalysts which may boost Seaway tonnage," he said.
In the Twin Ports of Duluth/Superior, the Edwin H. Gott departed from its winter berth at the Clure Public Marine Terminal at 4 a.m. beneath Duluth's famed Aerial Bridge to the CN Dock in Two Harbors to fuel and load iron ore pellets.
In a press release, Adele Yorde, public relations director for Duluth Seaway Port Authority, said, "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."
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"The first Canadian laker should arrive early next week," Yorde said. "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."
Yorde told me that it looks like the first saltie may arrive around April 4 to open the grain shipping season.
Shortly after midnight on Friday, March 25, the 858-foot Roger Blough was the first freighter to enter and pass through the Soo Locks (sometimes spelled Sault Locks, but pronounced "soo"). The four Soo Locks operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers are the Davis, Sabin, MacArthur, and Poe locks; currently, all ships use the larger Poe (1,200 feet) and MacArthur (800 feet) locks.
According to the USACE, the location of the Soo Locks provides a critical infrastructure link for ship owners and ports on both sides of the border. "As a gateway for commerce, the locks allow for the movement of essential raw materials to transit from Lake Superior to the lower Great Lakes," according to USACE. "Four thousand commercial vessels transit the locks each year carrying more than 80 million tons of iron ore, low-sulfur coal, grain, limestone and breakbulk cargoes from or destined for domestic and foreign ports."
"The opening of the Soo Locks reminds the shipping community that another year has passed for our nation's aging infrastructure, which highlights the need to protect the Soo by twinning the Poe Lock," Vanta Coda, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, stated in a press release by the Great Lakes Seaway Partnership.
On Feb. 17, 2016, U.S.-based Great Lakes Maritime Task Force warned in its 2015 annual report that relying on the single Poe-sized lock to connect Lake Superior to the lower lakes and seaway is one of the top issues threatening the future of shipping on the Great Lakes.
Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority, the largest grain export port on the lakes, stated in the press release that the Soo Locks are important to the port since 100% of their trade moves through the locks down to the Welland Canal and out through the seaway. "The majority of our grain leaves the port on lakers for transloading onto ocean vessels in Quebec destined for customers in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. We also load ocean vessels for direct export," added Heney.
"The opening of the Soo Locks is, for us, the opening day of baseball," Coda said. "It's the excitement of a new season -- the anticipation of seeing ships underway and commerce flowing in and out of the Duluth-Superior Harbor beneath the iconic Lift Bridge."
It is an amazing sight to see the "ladies of the lake" moving in and out of the ports. If you have not witnessed it, put it on your bucket list. For a taste of what you would see and hear, watch this video of the 1,000-foot Edwin H Gott starting off the 2016 shipping season for Duluth, courtesy of duluthharborcam.com: https://youtu.be/…
Mary Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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