First Great Lakes-Built Cargo Vessel in Nearly 40 Years Finally Comes to the Twin Ports

On September 6, the newest US-flagged freighter on the Great Lakes arrived in the Twin Ports. MV Mark W. Barker is the first vessel of its kind built on the lakes in nearly 40 years. It is owned by Interlake Steamship Company in Ohio and named after its president.

Great Lakes-Built Cargo Vessel

First Great Lakes-Built Cargo Vessel, built by Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, departed Sturgeon Bay on July 27. It was built for Cargill Inc. to transport salt from the Great Lakes region and was christened in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Mark W. Barker is the first ship built by Interlake Steamship since 1981 and the first to operate on the Great Lakes since 1983. The company stated that it had invested more than $100 million in modernizing its fleet to transport approximately 20 million tons of cargo such as iron ore, coal, and salt. The vessel is 639 feet long and 78 feet wide – making it slightly shorter than the 1,000-foot freighters on the Great Lakes.

“It provides it a better capacity to navigate through some of the smaller rivers, such as the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, and through some of the tighter turning docks and terminals that we’ll confront across the Great Lakes.”

Jayson Hron, a Duluth Seaway Port Authority spokesperson.

“One of the ship’s distinct advantages is its versatility, which extends to its ability to transport a variety of cargoes.”

The ship’s construction began in 2019 and it’s designed to carry an average of 25,000 tonnes of bulk and break bulk cargo per excursion on the Great Lakes. Bulk cargoes are items like iron, limestone, or coal that are poured into the cargo hold of a ship. In contrast, break bulk cargoes may contain oversized products like wind turbine components that are removed by cranes.

Instead of the traditional V-shaped cargo holds found on most Great Lakes freighters, the Mark W. Barker has a flat, rectangular bottom. According to Brendan O’Connor, vice president of marketing and marine traffic for Interlake Steamship Company, this increases its ability to carry a variety of cargoes.

“A number of customers have approached us and asked us to look at things that might relate to wind turbine or windmill structures, or larger bits of heavy equipment, or bridge girders,” O’Connor explained.

Mark W. Barker

The ship also has five MacGregor hatches, which are typically found on ocean-going ships. These hatches can facilitate loading at Great Lakes facilities as well as the handling of specialty cargoes. It is important to note that on the American side of the Great Lakes, only the ports of Duluth-Superior and Toledo can handle container cargo.

“We didn’t have that capability prior to the Mark Barker being built,” O’Connor explained.

It’s also the first ship on the Great Lakes that meets the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Tier 4 emissions standards. These standards have been established by the Environmental Protection Agency and are designed to reduce diesel particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions from marine diesel engines using a care technology known as the diesel exhaust fluid system. This contributes to a reduction in harmful nitrogen oxide emissions which can contribute to ozone pollution.

“It’s a wonderful ship not only for moving cargo throughout the Great Lakes and supplying our raw materials for everyday life, but also for doing so in an environmentally efficient manner,” Hron said.

The steel used to construct the Mark W. Barker was manufactured in Indiana and derived from iron ore mined on Minnesota’s Iron Range.

The ship arrived in Duluth-Superior harbor with approximately 22,000 tonnes of salt, which will be unloaded in Superior. After that, the ship will be loaded with iron ore bound for Cleveland.

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Duluth Notices Immense Opportunity in Cruise Ships After a Record-Breaking Great Lakes Season

It was still dark when the 665-foot long Viking Octantis slipped quietly under the Aerial Lift Bridge into the Duluth-Superior harbor as passengers began to arrive on the waterfront behind the city’s convention center.

“I’ve been to Minnesota before, but never this far north,” said Grace Mendez of Escondido, California.

“This is a ‘bucket list adventure for me,” added Ann Ivey of Little Rock, Arkansas. She noted that this was her first time in Minnesota – the trip meant that she only had two more states to visit to ensure that she had visited all fifty of them.

Mendez and Ivey were two of nearly 400 passengers aboard the Octantis, a Viking-launched “expedition” ship on the Great Lakes this year, which began in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and included stops in the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin and Mackinac Island in Michigan before ending in Milwaukee.

This was the ship’s seventh and final stop in Duluth for the season; American Queen Voyages also visited Duluth twice in June.

It is the first time in a decade that Duluth has hosted cruise ships, following a two-year hiatus across all of the Great Lakes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, nine ships from four different companies sailed the Lakes with nearly 20,000 passengers expected to travel by the end of the year, up more than 25% from 2019.

“It’s been a record-breaking year,” said Dave Lorenz, the state of Michigan’s travel director and chair of Cruise the Great Lakes, a coalition of states and provinces that promotes the cruise industry.

“And we can see that cruising has returned to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway.”

Cargo on the Great Lakes Is Down, But Steel Shipments Are Up

Steel shipments are up on the Great Lakes this year, while overall cargo is down. According to the Great Lakes Seaway Partnership, cargo is down 9% from 2021. However, the Great Lakes system moved 1.3 million metric tonnes of steel through August. This represents a 4% increase.

The Ports of Indiana-Burns Harbor are part of the Great Lakes system which included at least 23 countries in August – down from 27 in July. The system serves eight US states and two Canadian provinces, generating $35 billion in economic activity and supporting over 237,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, improvements to the Port of Burns Harbor are being made. The Ports of Indiana are investing nearly $20 million in upgrades to improve efficiency. According to Northwest Indiana Business, port officials said that the nearly $10 million FASTLANE grant is covering some of the costs and is being matched by state funds.

Improvements include an expansion of the existing rail network, a new cargo terminal, and other features. A dock wall is also being extended, and larger dock space is being created to improve cargo movement.

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