2013 shipping numbers for Duluth-Superior Port show iron ore shipments down, other sectors up

By KBJR News 1

January 21, 2014 Updated Jan 21, 2014 at 6:48 PM CST

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - In 2013, 36.7 million short tons of cargo ranging from fuel to food were shipped through the Port of Duluth–Superior.

According to the season end figures from the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, that's a small increase of about 28,000 short tons over the 2012 season.

"Limestone was up this year—an inbound cargo," said Public Relations Director Adele Yorde, of the Port Authority, "with all the ice, it's not surprising that salt was also up significantly this year from last, and way over average," she added, laughing.

2013's coal shipments from the Midwest Energy dock, in Superior, were up about 500,000 short tons—or 3.4 percent—when compared to 2012.

However, grain shipments saw the biggest increase—up 24 percent—from 2012's total tonnage of just over one million short tons.

Iron ore was the only commodity that experienced a decline in shipping through the Duluth–Superior port during 2013, dropping 7 percent from 17.6 million short tons to 16 million.

Yorde says the year–end deep freeze that settled over the region clogged shipping channels like the Saint Mary's River with fast–forming ice, rendering them all but impassible.

"Last year we had 14 laker visits in the first two weeks [of January]. This year it was just 7," said Yorde. "We were down 500,000 tons."

The second earliest and most expansive ice formation the Great Lakes has seen in 35 years forced some vessels to reduce their loads to make it through shipping choke points.

Even adjusting for one foot of a vessel's draft can be costly for shipping companies.

"You're leaving 3,000 tons behind," said Yorde. "So, if you're doing that on each trip it doesn't take long for you to be leaving an entire cargo behind."

When the ice melts, keeping the channels passable will still be considered a top priority for those in the shipping industry.

"Shipping is enormous [economically]. Because of a lack of dredging, we have barges that go out, and ships that go out, that aren't full," said U.S. Senator Al Franken, during a luncheon in Duluth emphasizing economic expansion in the Northland. "That makes it more expensive."

Legislators, like U.S. Senator Franken, are working to streamline shipping channel dredging efforts and revenue promised in the Federal Harbor Maintenance Fund.

Depending on what rotation year it is, some vessels will now berth in winter layup harbors, like the Fraser Shipyard in Superior, to undergo U.S. Coast Guard required maintenance.

Billy Wagness
bwagness@kbjr.com