By Brady Slater
Duluth News Tribune
Not counting the woebegone foreign vessel Cornelia that’s been detained offshore from Duluth for six weeks, the last saltie to call on the port of Duluth-Superior this shipping season docked late Monday - several hours later than anticipated.
After dropping anchor in a sheltered area off the Apostle Islands about 60 miles from Duluth to wait out high northeasterly winds that were approaching 50 mph, the Federal Bering pulled into the CHS terminal in Superior an hour before midnight.
The Bering will take on a split load of grains - 21,000 metric tons of wheat and canola - before departing midweek out the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway System for Mexico.
The system closes Dec. 30.
“It’s an interesting shipment because it will be going into the Gulf of Mexico and Mexico,” said spokesman Marc Gagnon of Fednav, the Canadian owners of the ship. “This proves that you can be more efficient exporting through the port of Duluth even to Mexico than to take barges down the Mississippi (River) or rail or something else.”
The Federal Bering is part of a brand-new Canadian-flagged fleet it calls its B-class for all six ships starting with the letter B, including the Biscay - the first ship transiting the Great Lakes with a ballast water treatment system.
The B-class ships were delivered to Fednav from Japan’s Oshima Shipbuilding Co. from May through October this year. A six-vessel C-class will follow in 2016.
“They’re 12 identical ships,” Gagnon said, describing the sleek 656-foot ships the company calls “oceangoing lakers” for having roughly 78-foot beams built specifically for locks along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway System.
The ships also are characterized for having box-shaped holds as opposed to holds that conform to the shape of the hull.
“They’re perfect for what we bring in,” Gagnon said, describing incoming general cargoes - “mostly steel,” he said - followed by outgoing grains that generally are ticketed for the Mediterranean.
Through November, the grain market on the Great Lakes is up sharply over 2014 - 310,000 tons to 191,500 tons at the same time a year ago and about 35,000 tons over the five-year average of roughly 274,400 tons.
“From our perspective - and I cannot give the perspective of the farmer whether it’s Canadian or U.S. - it’s been pretty good,” Gagnon said. “Typically our backhaul - we come in with general cargo - is we get out with grain for export.”
While the Federal Bering’s outgoing load of grain represents a solid year for the commodity, numbers from the Lake Carriers’ Association released this week continue to show a decline in iron ore.
So far in 2015, about 37 million tons of iron ore have been shipped throughout the Great Lakes - below the five-year average of about 40 million tons and off the 2014 year-to-date number of 40.2 million tons.