The first saltie of the year made its way into the Duluth-Superior port Wednesday night with many looking on, a sure sign that spring is here.

The Federal Churchill, a 656-foot bulk carrier owned by Montreal-based Fednav, earned the first ship distinction, completing the season’s first full transit of the St. Lawrence Seaway en route to the Twin Ports.

The vessel was expected to dock at the Riverland Ag terminal to load approximately 23,000 short tons of durum wheat destined for Italy.

Due to COVID-19 precautions, the annual first ship celebration event will not be held this year, however, a fixture of the celebration — the first ship contest, co-sponsored by Visit Duluth and the Duluth Seaway Port Authority — will crown a winner from more than 2,000 entries.

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Federal Churchill is flying under the flag of the Marshall Islands and is captained by Arnab Roy of India. The ship was built in 2016 by Oshima Shipbuilding in Japan.

Protocols to mitigate COVID-19 risks

With seafarers coming to the Twin Ports from all over the world, protocols and precautions have been put in place to help mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19.

“Everything from simple modifications, like supplying key shipping documents via email rather than hard copy, to operational changes,” said Jayson Hron, director of communication and marketing for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

Hron said captains and vessel operators are required to provide immediate and 96-hour advance notice of any crewmember illnesses or suspected symptoms to the U.S. Coast Guard and Center for Disease Control and Prevention before entering a port. That would activate a series of steps with those agencies, the CDC quarantine center in Minneapolis and local health care providers, he said.

Hron said seafarers can leave their ships under certain conditions, though many shipping companies are advising against doing so.

“On board the ships, the shipping companies have also instituted new procedures and safeguards to keep their crews safe, much like homes and offices throughout North America — extra sanitization steps; social distancing whenever possible — even at mealtimes, et cetera,” Hron said. “Seafarers actually constitute a lower-risk population for COVID-19, because they spend almost all of their time inside the ships, on the water, away from the general population.”