First 'saltie' of season reaches Duluth harbor

The Dutch-flagged Arubaborg blasts its horn as it passes through the Duluth canal on Friday, April 6, 2012. It was the first ocean-going ship, or "saltie," to reach Duluth in the 2012 shipping season.
MPR Photo/Nathaniel Minor

The first international ship, or "saltie," of Lake Superior's shipping season arrived in the Duluth harbor Friday.

The Dutch-flagged Arubaborg will load up with more than 10,000 tons of durum wheat on Monday to take to Belgium. En route to the Twin Ports, the 470-foot vessel dropped its cargo of steel pipe in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Salties make up only about 10 percent of shipping traffic in the Duluth harbor. But Duluth Seaway Port Authority Executive Director Adolph Ojard said the salties and Midwestern farmers depend on each other. Farmers benefit from international markets and salties need to load up with outbound cargo to pay for the return trip.

"One of the best areas to do that is in Duluth and Superior, where they can load grains from the heartland of America into international markets," Ojard said.

The huge 1,000-foot "lakers" that haul iron ore and coal around the Great Lakes make up 90 percent of the ships that come to Duluth, Ojard said. But he said international ships often carry more specialized cargo.

"The port plays a very vital role in energy development," Ojard said. "Wind turbines, equipment and supplies for the North Dakota oil shale development, as well as the Canadian oil sands in northern Alberta."

About 1,300 people entered the annual Duluth contest to guess the exact time of the first saltie's arrival. The winner will be announced on Monday.

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