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Long-anchored saltie finally on the move

The saltie Federal Mattawa sits at anchor in Lake Superior near Duluth surrounded by late season ice. (Clint Austin /

After 23 days of hanging around outside of the Aerial Lift Bridge, the Federal Mattawa came in early Tuesday evening. The grain carrier was given the go-ahead to ply its way to the CHS dock in Superior, where it was deemed there was enough grain to fill the ship.

Crew members on the ship have seen ice come and go. They’ve seen dozens of other ships come and go.

And they’ve seen more than three weeks pass since they anchored outside of the Duluth Harbor Basin on May 19. A series of events had the saltie bobbing endlessly in the corner of Lake Superior, much to the puzzlement of avid shipwatchers in Duluth.

Adele Yorde, spokeswoman for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, said the long wait for the Federal Mattawa has been “unusual,” much like the season so far, as ice conditions on Lake Superior slowed shipping into May.

The ship started on the St. Lawrence Seaway in late April and, after dropping cargo in Hamilton, Ont., made its way to Thunder Bay by May 8. It was “repositioned” to Duluth because of backups in the Canadian port, Yorde said, and then has had to wait out other salties loading grain, and then a grain shortage.

She suspects the shortage culprit is the preference for oil trains over grain on lines from the Dakotas.

Steve Sydow, operations manager at Daniel’s Shipping Services, has been assigned to the ship. He said because it hadn’t cleared customs, the crew wasn’t able to come ashore. The crew is well stocked from its stop in Montreal a month ago.

“They’re not laying around,” Sydow said earlier Tuesday, before he knew the ship could come in. They were catching up on sleep lost with the intense navigating through the seaway locks and the ice, he said. They were also doing routine maintenance and housekeeping.

“It’s time they normally wouldn’t get,” Sydow said of the international crew members. “They’re not out on the hatches sunning themselves.”

Sydow’s job has been to handle communications with the ship regarding grain availability. He had been waiting to hear from CHS early Tuesday and then the call came in. The wait was over.