Ukrainians part of first foreign ship into Twin Ports
Crew member whose family fled war: "Mariupol is all broken.”
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.
“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.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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.