Twin Ports shipping tonnages enjoy another summer jolt

Led by the Great Lakes iron ore trade, shipping in July kept up steam and enjoyed a month on par with the good seasons that led into the pandemic.

The 1,000-foot-long laker Indiana Harbor motors through the Duluth Harbor Basin past concert goers during the Bayfront Blues Festival on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, in Duluth. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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The Great Lakes shipping campaign enjoyed another month of prosperity in July, staying above the five-year average and soaring above the same month last year by almost 62%.

“It’s been a good first half of the shipping season so far and a vigorous rebound from the COVID challenges of 2020,” said Deb DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, in a news release last week. “It’s been especially good to see iron ore tonnage jumping back above the five-season average, because it’s a bellwether of positivity for our port and our region as a whole.”

Taconite iron ore shipments on the Great Lakes totaled 5.7 million short tons for the month — including Duluth (1.1 million), Superior (1.4 million), Two Harbors (1.6 million) and Silver Bay (607,650). Last July brought only 3.5 million tons of iron ore movement.

In fact, Superior's total was notable for the way it was 1 million more tons this July than last — up to 1.38 million short tons from 345,472 in pandemic-depressed July 2020.

For the year, Great Lakes iron ore tonnage ended the month at 26.4 million short tons, ahead of 2020’s 20.7 million short tons at the same point, according to figures from the Lake Carriers' Association.


The 26.4 million short tons for the month also tracked well with past Julys from good years in 2017-19, when U.S. ore carriers moved 27.5 million, 26.6 million and 26.8 million short tons, respectively.

July 2021 iron ore shipping.jpg
Gary Meader /

“Each ore ship carries between $7 million and $8 million in ore value, so while they’re moving a key raw material of everyday life, they’re also moving a sizable amount of commerce for our communities and the North American economy,” said DeLuca on the importance of ore to the local economy.

As iron ore tonnage continued to climb , Duluth and Superior combined to top 9.5 million tons to finish July 12.6% above the five-season average for the combined cities, and 31% ahead of the 2020 pace.

All told, the port of Duluth-Superior moved nearly 4.2 million short tons of maritime cargo in July 2021, pushing the port’s season-to-date tonnage total over 15.2 million through July.

It marked Duluth-Superior’s largest July float since 2015, helping nudge total tonnage 6% above the five-season average and 40.5% ahead of last season’s pace.

Coal and petroleum coke moved briskly, topping 1 million tons in July and 3.6 million tons for the season. The total represents a threefold increase over the 2020 pace.


Other notable bulk cargo highlights included cement and salt deliveries outpacing the five-season average by 59% and 9.5%, respectively.

The Port Authority noted that general cargo deliveries in July included a shipment of heavy-duty mining equipment for iron-mining operations in Northeastern Minnesota.

July 2021 limestone shipping.jpg
Gary Meader /

Port Authority raises its ‘Green’ score

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority and its terminal operations on Rice’s Point earned high marks in the recently released Green Marine 2020 environmental performance report, improving from a 3.8 rating in 2019 to a 4.0 score on Green Marine’s five-point scale.

The overall average for reporting participants was 2.9, a Port Authority news release said last week.

The annual report rates port authority participants in seven categories: air emissions, community impacts, dry bulk handling and storage, environmental leadership, spill prevention, underwater noise, and waste management.

A record 49 North American port authorities participated in the 2020 evaluation process, with the Duluth Seaway Port Authority ranking No. 4 in the United States and No. 1 among U.S. Great Lakes ports.


“We’re mindful of minimizing environmental impacts and the Green Marine program helps guide those efforts,” said Jeff Stollenwerk, Duluth Seaway Port Authority director of government and environmental affairs. “It provides a tangible scoreboard for environmental stewardship, with benchmarks that become increasingly stringent from year to year. That approach helps inspire participants to exceed regulatory requirements.”

The voluntary Green Marine certification program began in 2007 and includes close to 170 participating ship owners, port authorities, seaway corporations, terminal operators and shipyard managers. Program participants agree to adopt practices and technologies that reduce their environmental footprint. The Duluth Seaway Port Authority has participated since its inception.

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