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Port starts its business

On Friday the officers and crew of the Interlake Steamship Company's James R. Barker were busy completing fit-out before taking on about 54,000 metric tons of coal, the first of two loads bound for Marquette, Mich.

On Friday the officers and crew of the Interlake Steamship Company's James R. Barker were busy completing fit-out before taking on about 54,000 metric tons of coal, the first of two loads bound for Marquette, Mich.
Once again Superior's Midwest Energy Resources Co. is loading the first vessel out. Last year, it was the Paul R. Tregurtha, also an Interlake vessel, that departed MERC on March 16, carrying 58,000 metric tons.
The Barker, a 1,005-foot self-unloading vessel built in 1976, has a carrying capacity of 63,000 gross tons, but the winter draft significantly restricts the load.
Capt. Joe Buonocore said the low lake levels in recent years have prevented any record loads. Predictions for the upcoming season suggest the levels will be even lower, meaning lighter loads and more trips to fill out contracts.
"That's why we start early," said Buonocore.
He said the ice in the harbor is anywhere from 3 1/2 to 6 feet thick. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sundew broke ice on Friday morning.
Although there was ice surrounding the Barker, having wintered at MERC, Buonocore said it did not necessarily mean they would have to take tugs out to the open water. The Barker has dual 8,000 horse power diesel engines, giving it a powerful advantage.
Buonocore, who lives in Long Island, is a graduate of the New York Maritime Academy. He has 26 years experience, the last 11 as relief captain for Interlake Steamship. This is the first permanently assigned vessel for Buonocore.
"As far as I'm concerned, we have the best crew on the Great Lakes. Everybody is hard-working; they know what they're doing," said Buonocore.
While it might appear the vessel operates smoothly and effortlessly, the perfection comes from a highly skilled crew:
"What some people don't understand is how it got to that level," said Buonocore. "I feel very fortunate to have the people I have."
In addition, the captain pointed out computerization and automation within the pilot house, the bulk of which have been added since it was built.
"This company is super high-tech and way ahead of the game," said Buonocore.
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New this year is a personalized alarm system that consists of small motion detectors worn by personnel. A high pitched alarm is sounded when no motion is detected, or the system can be manually activated should a crew member encounter a dangerous situation.
The locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., will officially open on March 25.
The U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Mackinaw was scheduled to break ice in Marquette harbor in preparation of the arrival of the Barker. The "Big Mac," as it is affectionately known in the Twin Ports, arrived in the Duluth-Superior harbor Monday to assist the Sundew in opening up channels.
The first arrival ceremony will be held when the Port's season is officially declared open with the first inbound vessel from the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie.
The Welland Canal and the Montreal-Lake Ontario sections of the St. Lawrence Seaway will open at 8 a.m. on March 23, the earliest opening date since the beginning of the Seaway system 42 years ago, according to the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.
As the demand for the environmentally friendly, low-sulphur coal continues, MERC continues to break yearly records in the total tonnage shipped from Superior.

Susan Anderson is a reporter for the Superior Daily Telegram, a Murphy McGinnis Newspaper.

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