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Ukrainians part of first foreign ship into Twin Ports

Crew member whose family fled war: "Mariupol is all broken.”

The 624-foot long bulk carrier, Resko, the first saltie to visit the Twin Ports in 2022, hosts ceremony.
Douglas Paulson, left, director of the Twin Ports Ministry of Seafarers and Capt. Lucas Pionke gesture while talking about rough seas aboard Resko, a 624-foot bulk carrier from the Polsteam fleet, during a ceremony welcoming the first oceangoing ship to the Duluth Superior Harbor on Friday, April 15, 2022 at Gavilon Grain Connors Point Terminal in Superior.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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SUPERIOR — The 2022-23 shipping season’s first saltie opened its watertight doors Friday to dignitaries, boat photographers and media.

Resko, a 624-foot bulk carrier, endured 10-meter waves on the ocean, and gale seas on Lake Superior to traverse the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway and reach the Twin Ports before any other overseas vessels on Wednesday.

As Great Lakes freighters ducked into port and harbor this week to avoid the constant chop, the oceangoing Resko carried ahead. The only ship tracing Lake Superior during high-knot winds, Resko made a slow crawl to Connors Point through the Duluth Shipping Canal.

It was far from Resko's only first.

The 624-foot long bulk carrier, Resko, the first saltie to visit the Twin Ports in 2022, hosts ceremony.
Resko, a 624-foot bulk carrier from the Polsteam fleet, sits at the dock on Friday, April 15, 2022 at Gavilon Grain Connors Point Terminal in Superior.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“We’re the first into every port,” said Waldemar Gawrs, 58, a bosun (ship's officer) in charge of hull maintenance from Poland, citing previous stops in Cleveland and Milwaukee, where it unloaded rolled steel and was similarly celebrated for its arrival.

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Resko was visiting Gavilon Grain Connors Point Terminal to load approximately 16,200 short tons of spring wheat and 5,400 short tons of durum wheat destined for Italy, according to the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

Captained by the camera-shy Lukasz Pionke of Poland, the ship was built in 2010, flies the flag of the Bahamas, and is crewed by five Ukrainians, one Bulgarian and the rest Poles.

"It is a difficult situation," Pionke said of managing crew members while war erupted in Eastern Europe.

The 624-foot long bulk carrier, Resko, the first saltie to visit the Twin Ports in 2022, hosts ceremony.
Lucas Pionke of Poland, captain of the Resko, a 624-foot bulk carrier from the Polsteam fleet, listens to speakers during the ceremony welcoming the first saltie to the Duluth Superior Harbor on Friday, April 15, 2022 at Gavilon Grain Connors Point Terminal in Superior.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Mykola Bakhtin described his position aboard the ship as "an ordinary seaman." Age 35, he's from Mariupol, Ukraine, a city ravaged by war.

The 624-foot long bulk carrier, Resko, the first saltie to visit the Twin Ports in 2022, hosts ceremony.
Mykola Bakhtin, ordinary seaman, age 35, from Mariupol, Ukraine seen aboard the Resko, a 624-foot bulk carrier from the Polsteam fleet, on Friday, April 15, 2022 at Gavilon Grain Connors Point Terminal in Superior.
Brady Slater / Duluth News Tribune

The Russian invasion of his country began after he’d contracted to help crew Resko. He’s been sailing farther away from his homeland at a time when his hometown has been flattened under tyrannical violence.

“I feel very bad. I’m from Mariupol,” Bakhtin said. “So, my family leaves Mariupol. It’s OK. Wife, my kid, one daughter, 5 years (old); now my family is in Germany, and keeps OK.”

Bakhtin and Gawrs stood on the main deck, atop the steep and temporary staircase that made up the gangway. They were checking in visitors, bored with the cold.

Scheduled to launch its working life later this year, the Mark W. Barker will enter sea trials soon this spring. It’s the first Great Lakes ship to be built by an American company since 1983, which marked the end of a lengthy boom time that included the arrival of the immense 1,000-footers.

Bakhtin wore a knit cap featuring the logo of the New York Yankees. It’s springtime and baseball had arrived everywhere, even in places where coat collars were still turned up.

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“It’s winter all year,” Duluth Seaway Port Authority spokesperson Jayson Hron said, drawing laughs.

Hron led the program from the Resko pilot house, which overlooked the grain-loading in progress.

Superior City Councilor Tylor Elm, State Sen. Jennifer McEwen, DFL-Duluth, Port Authority Executive Director Deb DeLuca, and Duluth City Councilor Arik Forsman engaged with the crowd and crew.

The 624-foot long bulk carrier, Resko, the first saltie to visit the Twin Ports in 2022, hosts ceremony.
Lucas Pionke of Poland, captain of the Resko, a 624-foot bulk carrier from the Polsteam fleet, talks to the media after a ceremony welcoming the first oceangoing ship of the season to the Duluth Superior Harbor on Friday, April 15, 2022 at Gavilon Grain Connors Point Terminal in Superior.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“I’ve never been on one of these,” said Forsman, of the working freighter. “It’s fun to get inside and catch a glimpse of how the mystery happens.”

He added a quip: “There’s a lot of stairs.”

The Moskva, Russia's flagship in its Black Sea fleet, sank as it was being towed to port in stormy weather, Russian news agencies quoted the defense ministry as saying. Russia said earlier that over 500 crew aboard the Soviet-era missile cruiser were evacuated after ammunition on board exploded. Ukraine said it hit the warship with a Ukrainian-made Neptune anti-ship missile.

An alarm rang disrupting the program for a moment. The captain palmed a red button to end it, and an officer in an official blue sweater sprang to the controls to reset the array.

It was nothing.

Outside, on the main deck, was everything else.

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The 624-foot long bulk carrier, Resko, the first saltie to visit the Twin Ports in 2022, hosts ceremony.
Wheat flows into one of the holds of the Resko, a 624-foot bulk carrier from the Polsteam fleet, on Friday, April 15, 2022 at Gavilon Grain Connors Point Terminal in Superior.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“When I go home I don’t know how it will be,” Bakhtin said, in terms of his reaction. “I just don’t know how it will be. I want to go home, of course.”

He started a contract in January, and by Feb. 24 the world beneath his feet was not only aqueous, it was shaken.

“It’s very bad what happened in Mariupol,” he said. “Now I know guys, friends, not all guys I contact now. My house? Broken. All broken. You see news, Mariupol is all broken.”

It was a lot to say.

“Enough?” he asked.

It was enough.

But, then, a final word.

“Ukraine will win, of course,” Bakhtin said. “Ukraine will win.”

Contest winner guesses First Ship arrival nearly perfectly

The Port Authority’s annual First Ship contest, co-sponsored by Visit Duluth, saw one of its best guesses since the contest began in 1984.

Susan Stebbins, of Garrison, Minnesota, guessed 6:30 p.m. April 13, and the freighter sailed under the Aerial Lift Bridge a mere 2 minutes later than that Wednesday. She won a hotel stay in Duluth and more for guessing closest to the first saltie's arrival into the Twin Ports.

All told, 3,670 entries came from across the globe took part in the annual contest.

The 624-foot long bulk carrier, Resko, the first saltie to visit the Twin Ports in 2022, hosts ceremony.
A longshoreman monitors the loading of wheat aboard the Resko, a 624-foot bulk carrier from the Polsteam fleet, on Friday, April 15, 2022 at Gavilon Grain Connors Point Terminal in Superior. The ship is loading approximately 16,200 short tons of spring wheat and 5,400 short tons of durum wheat destined for Italy.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
The 624-foot long bulk carrier, Resko, the first saltie to visit the Twin Ports in 2022, hosts ceremony.
Wheat is loaded into one of the cargo holds of Resko, a 624-foot bulk carrier from the Polsteam fleet, on Friday, April 15, 2022 at Gavilon Grain Connors Point Terminal in Superior. The wheat is heading to Italy.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
The 624-foot long bulk carrier, Resko, the first saltie to visit the Twin Ports in 2022, hosts ceremony.
Lucas Pionke of Poland, captain of the Resko, a 624-foot bulk carrier from the Polsteam fleet, listens to speakers during the ceremony welcoming the first saltie to the Duluth Superior Harbor on Friday, April 15, 2022 at Gavilon Grain Connors Point Terminal in Superior.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
The 624-foot long bulk carrier, Resko, the first saltie to visit the Twin Ports in 2022, hosts ceremony.
A view from the bridge of Resko, a 624-foot bulk carrier from the Polsteam fleet, on Friday, April 15, 2022 at Gavilon Grain Connors Point Terminal in Superior.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Brady Slater covers St. Louis County and transportation for the Duluth News Tribune. He's a veteran journalist, and a University of Pittsburgh graduate who was born and raised in the Northland. He can be reached by emailing bslater@duluthnews.com or by calling or texting 218-721-2724.
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