Duluth Seaway Port Authority Season Summary: Grain gain, heavy lifts boost tonnage totals

February 19, 2020 / Categories: Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council

Cargo volume exceeded 33.5 million short tons at the Port of Duluth-Superior for the 2019 shipping season, ranking as the port’s third highest throughput since 2015.

Four of the port’s six cargo categories notched season-over-season tonnage gains.

General cargo, comprised of project cargoes, breakbulk and heavy-lift industrial pieces, led the way with a tenfold tonnage increase. Wind energy cargo arrivals paced the surge, with Duluth Cargo Connect welcoming a single-season record 306,000 freight tons of wind energy cargo to the Clure Public Marine Terminal in 2019.

Other bulk cargo, a category dominated by inbound salt in 2019, also posted a substantial season-over-season increase, climbing 35 percent.

Grain tonnage reached 1.5 million short tons this season, an 18 percent increase over last season and 10 percent improvement on the five-season average. This included an unprecedented January grain shipment, as the H. Lee White departed Jan. 2, 2020, with 18,015 tons of spring wheat. Grain shipments from the Port of Duluth-Superior typically conclude in December.

Limestone rounded out the 2019 percentage gainers, with a 2 percent season-over-season tonnage increase.

Iron ore, despite declining from a 23-season high in 2018, remained the port’s top tonnage cargo in 2019, totaling 19.7 million short tons and exceeding the five-season average by more than 12 percent.

Tonnage gains were offset by a sharp drop in coal, which posted its lowest tonnage total (8 million short tons) since 1985.

Examining the St. Lawrence Seaway as a whole, one year removed from its best season in more than a decade, international shipping volume through the Seaway declined 6.4 percent in 2019. Contributing factors included international trade conflicts, crop-hindering weather and challenging navigational conditions due to high water levels.

“Despite some headwinds, it was a solid tonnage season for the Port of Duluth-Superior, and record-breaking for wind energy cargo,” said Deb DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. “Looking ahead, we have reason for optimism in 2020, with the prospect of greater international trade certainty and more project cargo scheduled to arrive. The outlook is mostly upbeat.”

Additional 2019 highlights:

• In April, the Duluth Seaway Port Authority and its terminal operations on Rice’s Point earned high marks in the Green Marine environmental performance report, ranking among the United States’ top 5 and No. 10 overall. Green Marine is a voluntary environmental certification program for the North American marine industry, reviewed by an independent third party. The Duluth Seaway Port Authority has participated since the program’s inception in 2007.

• In May, the port collected its 18th Pacesetter Award for year-over-year increases in international tonnage shipped to and from Duluth-Superior through the St. Lawrence Seaway.

• In June, the Duluth Seaway Port Authority completed expansion of the CN Duluth Intermodal Terminal, increasing capacity and efficiency for containerized road and rail cargo movement. The $3.2 million project included 2,600 feet of new railroad track and six acres of newly paved storage space.

• In October, an international panel of judges formed by Heavy Lift and Project Forwarding International named Duluth Cargo Connect the publication’s 2019 Port/Terminal Operator of the Year at a ceremony in Antwerp.

• Eighty-five overseas vessels arrived in the Port of Duluth-Superior during the 2019 shipping season, the most since 2010.

• Six domestic vessels are wintering in the Port of Duluth-Superior, where they will undergo maintenance in advance of the 2020 season. March 25, 2020, is the Soo Locks’ scheduled re-opening date.

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