DULUTH – A semblance of normalcy amid the COVID-19 pandemic accompanied a small ceremony aboard a ship in the Duluth harbor celebrating the movement of cement halfway around the globe on Tuesday.

"It's just such a happy occasion to be able to be here, actually together, at an event," said Duluth Seaway Port Authority spokesman Jayson Hron, "to carry on this tradition of the first ship in our port for the season, and to be able to write the next chapter in our first ship celebration together."

The Federal Biscay, a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel docked at the end of Rice's Point, was the first oceangoing ship to arrive at the Port of Duluth-Superior this year when it passed under the Aerial Lift Bridge on Sunday afternoon.

It carried 21,000 metric tons of cement from Turkey to be used in infrastructure projects around the region and as far away as Edmonton, Alberta.

"I can't think of a better illustration of the role the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway shipping plays in delivering those critical materials of everyday life here to our port," said Deb DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

"It takes all of us to keep this robust industry going," Duluth Mayor Emily Larson added.

The captain of the ship, Melwyn Dias, said he and his crew of 21 were "happy to hear that the town was looking forward to the ship's arrival."

"Thank you for letting us be part of your celebration and development," he said.

It was the India native's second visit to the Twin Ports, both times bringing cement to the CRH terminal. Dias' father and grandfather both helmed ships, which led him into the profession.

The Federal Biscay's arrival was the latest initial saltie arrival of a season since ice delayed the start to the 2014 shipping season. An oceangoing vessel didn't reach Duluth until May 7 that year.

The Suez Canal blockage that disrupted global shipping for six days in March didn't hamper the Federal Biscay, but it will have indirect effects on the Duluth port, DeLuca said.

Last year 85 salties visited the port, tying the number of overseas vessels that arrived in the 2019 season. That was a bright spot during a season severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its broad effects on the economy, which saw total tonnage moving through the Port of Duluth-Superior drop to its lowest level in more than 80 years.

Officials expect a rebound this season driven by strong demand for steel and the Minnesota-mined iron ore that feeds the industry and comprises a majority of the cargo shipped through the Duluth port.

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496