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Shipping season off to a strong start

The Federal Yukon sits at anchor in Lake Superior near Duluth May 9. (Clint Austin /

Brooks Johnson

Forum News Service

The early numbers are in, and the early numbers look good: Maritime traffic at the Port of Duluth-Superior is up 7 percent over last year.

"It's a strong start, compared to some of the ice-laden starts we've had in previous years," port spokeswoman Adele Yorde said. "That alone helped ships start moving earlier and with a lot less impediment."

The 2017 shipping season had its soft launch when the first freighters left the Twin Ports on March 22; the Soo Locks opened March 25, reconnecting Lake Superior to the rest of the world.

Since then, the Port of Duluth-Superior has trafficked in 3.85 million tons of commodities.

A recently revitalized Iron Range has brought local taconite pellet stockpiles ever higher, bringing local shipments 39 percent above their five-year average, Yorde said.

More than 1.9 million tons of iron ore were shipped out in April alone, with an additional 600,000 tons taking off in the waning days of March, according to the Lake Carriers Association.

"Interestingly enough, about 35 percent of that ore was on Canadian vessels, either to a Canadian customer or for transloading (abroad)," Yorde said.

The Chamber of Marine Commerce reported that iron ore exports to Japan and China, which took off in earnest at the end of last year's shipping season, have continued.

The iron trade has been above-average in Two Harbors and Silver Bay as well, and all Great Lakes ports shipping taconite had the best April tonnage since 2012.

"We're starting to see all the tariffs put in place, around foreign steel dumping, have started to take effect," Yorde said. "There must be some optimism in domestic steel production — and global markets."

For the St. Lawrence Seaway, traffic is up 8 percent to start the year's trade.

"It's still very early in the season, but we're optimistic that 2017 will be a better year for Great Lakes-Seaway shipping," Bruce Burrows, president of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, said in a statement.