Shipping and mining leaders address start of shipping season 2023

“It’s going to be a full-throttle start to the season”
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 8:06 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 24, 2023 at 12:27 AM EDT
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - We may be just past the official start of spring, but Thursday marks the beginning of another important season in the northland, shipping season.

Early Thursday morning, the Lee A. Tregurtha sailed under the aerial lift bridge, becoming the first ship to depart the Twin Ports for the 2023 season.

It’s a season leader’s in the shipping and mining industry are hoping is a busy one.

“It’s going to be a full-throttle start to the season,” said Deb DeLuca, Executive Director for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

According to DeLuca, shipping impacts many people in the community.

“Just to remind you that shipping, all the cargo movements through the port, supports 8,000 jobs and $1.4 billion in economic activity every year,” Deluca said.

Recent changes could make for a very busy season, starting in May there will be a monthly stop from Dutch shipping company Spliethoff, carrying cargo between Duluth and Antwerp.

“Having that regular service means that companies can know that they have a committed route in and out of this area every month,” DeLuca said.

And that’s just the start of the changes.

Leaders with seaway said more grain may be hitting the seas out of Duluth this year.

The Twin Ports’ old General Mills grain silo is getting back into production under new ownership from Hansen Mueller.

While grain can have an impact, the local mining industry supplies the majority of goods shipped through the port.

Industry leaders are confident about the iron ore market this year.

“The demand for steel is very much there and it’s strong. As Deb mentioned, iron ore did really well in January of this year,” said Kristen Vake, Executive Director for the Iron Mining Association.

According to Vake, mining contributes $4 billion to the state economy and employs 12,000 people both directly and indirectly.

She also noted Duluth and the Iron Range are incredibly interconnected when it comes to shipping.

“When you look outside, you see those massive piles of pellets, and it’s really exciting to know that they will soon be loaded up and sent off to the steel mills,” Vake said.

And that time will soon come. The first ship of the 2023 season to pass through the Soo Locks at Sault. St. Marie will be heading to Two Harbors to load iron ore.

Shipping ceases between January 16 and March 25 while crews perform maintenance on the lock’s critical infrastructure to prevent disruption of the shipping season.

“If we did have an outage, it would definitely have a widescale impact both nationally and economically, so that is why this period is so important, it allows us to strategically plan and reduce the risk of having an outage during the NAV season,” said LeighAnn Ryckeghem, the Soo Locks Operations Manager.

The commercial navigation season begins when the locks open at midnight Friday, March 24 into Saturday, March 25.