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Midwest Energy leads the pack in Twin Ports shipping

The Port of Duluth-Superior finished the 2008-09 shipping season just 4.6 percent behind last year, despite the global economic meltdown of the last quarter and drastic drops in steel production and manufacturing. Tonnage remained steadier than e...

The Port of Duluth-Superior finished the 2008-09 shipping season just 4.6 percent behind last year, despite the global economic meltdown of the last quarter and drastic drops in steel production and manufacturing. Tonnage remained steadier than expected due to record coal shipments through Midwest Energy Resources Company's Superior terminal and reallocation of iron ore pellet inventories.

Tonnage for this year's season, which ended Jan. 12 with the departure of the Atlantic Huron, was 45,640,002 short tons. Overall, coal shipments were up 6.3 percent to a record-breaking 22,094,365 short tons. Iron ore was down 7 percent to 18.4 million short tons, while grain experienced a dismal year, dropping by 61 percent to below 2 million short tons for the season. The volume of project cargo, wind turbine components and Canadian oil sands equipment, remained steady; the Port handled just over 302,000 freight tons of wind cargo alone.

Duluth-Superior tonnage figures mirror those of the St. Lawrence Seaway where overall traffic fell by 5.35 percent from previous year levels. The waterway carried a total of 40.7 million tons of cargo in 2008 compared with just over 43 million the previous shipping season.

Adolph Ojard, Duluth Seaway Port Authority executive director, echoed Seaway management executives when asked to predict the outlook for maritime commerce in 2009. "We're in unchartered territory; it's difficult to know where inventories and freight rates will be in the year ahead, what sectors of the economy will recover fastest, where grain markets will be globally, or how many vessels will be in operation to start the season. But we are definitely hoping for a recovery by the third quarter of 2009."

A total of 1,126 vessels called on the Duluth-Superior port in the 2008 shipping season just 69 oceangoing ships, which was less than half of the salty traffic of the previous year.

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