Minnesota celebrated the start of the 2018 commercial shipping season this week by opening the Port of Duluth-Superior to cargo ships that will deliver iron ore to customers along the Great Lakes, port and mining officials announced Wednesday. 

 Duluth Seaway Port-Authority officials said the five ships departing the harbor will load iron ore from across Minnesota's Iron Range and Marquette, Michigan and delivered it to steel mills on the Lower Great Lakes.  

With the assistance of an ice breaking tugboat, the Erie Trader/Clyde S. VanEnkevort left the Duluth port Tuesday to load iron ore at the Canadian National dock in Two Harbors.

Later this week, the Edwin H. Gott will head to Two Harbors, while the Kaye E. Barker will leave for Marquette, Mich., to load iron ore. The James R. Barker and Burns Harbor – both thousand-footers – are scheduled to load iron ore pellets in the Twin Ports this week,  Port officals noted. 

Once loaded, the first five ships will head across Lake Superior toward Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., to await the opening of the Soo Locks on Sunday, March 25

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority estimates the Twin Ports could begin seeing its first inbound "lakers" arrive a day later, depending on ice conditions.  The port is used by nearly 900 vessels each year and moves an average of 35 million tons of iron ore, coal, grain, limestone, cement, salt and equipment cargo. 

Shipping from the Port of Duluth-Superior creates about 11,500 jobs and contributes $1.5 billion to the regional economy. Given last year's booming shipments, expectations are high.

Kelsey Johnson, president of the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota, said the shipping season opener is an exciting time for iron mining and the region. “Each shipping season we are reminded of the interconnectedness of mining in our daily lives and with its regional economic impact,” she said. “This is a great day for Minnesota iron, American steel, and all our regional ports.”

Last year, iron ore shipments traveling from Minnesota across the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway were the highest levels seen in about a decade, with the biggest contributors being Canada’s largest ship operator - Algoma Central Corp., and other Canadian firms.

Through September of last year, iron-ore shipments from the Duluth port jumped 36 percent to 13.7 million tons from the same period in 2016. The uptick was proof that most Minnesota taconite plants had reopened and were churning away following a severe downturn in 2015 and 2016 that displaced 2,000 Iron Rangers. 

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