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Bon voyage! Cornelia finally leaves Duluth, bound for Atlantic

The Cornelia rides at anchor off of Park Point earlier this month. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

An agreement reached with the U.S. Coast Guard will allow a languishing foreign freighter to finally leave Duluth.

After six weeks of detainment offshore from Duluth, the Cornelia set sail Friday morning, passing under the Aerial Lift Bridge and out on to Lake Superior.

"We have reached an agreement and the vessel is making preparations to depart Duluth,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Yaw of the Cleveland-based 9th District of the U.S. Coast Guard. Yaw on Thursday declined to give specifics of the agreement or any further details about the weeks-long investigation into what officials earlier said were “violations related to the discharge of oily water.”

Stephen Sydow, a Duluth-based vessel agent for his family’s Daniel’s Shipping Services, confirmed with the News Tribune on Thursday that the oceangoing freighter was slated to depart Friday morning.  

Until moving to dock in Superior Bay on Thursday to refuel and take on supplies, the Cornelia had been offshore from Duluth for six weeks, having been brought to anchor by the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Unit in Duluth shortly after loading a shipment of grain bound for ports on the Mediterranean Sea.

The investigation “for alleged violations of U.S. environmental regulations” brought in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota and tied up operations for multiple entities on multiple continents — including the Sydows’ business, an overseas flour mill, a Canadian vessel manager, the ship’s German operator and more. The full cargo of grain has been said to be worth millions of dollars.

The News Tribune was first to report the investigation on Nov. 6.

It’s not been reported where the alleged discharge occurred, though the Coast Guard did say it does not appear to have happened in the Twin Ports. Multiple sources have maintained throughout the Cornelia’s detainment that the alleged incident could have happened months ago on waters outside of the Great Lakes.

MST, the ship’s German-based operator, has said it was waiting for the ship’s owners in Bremen, Germany, to make a decision after it had been approached by the Coast Guard with a security agreement that would allow the ship to sail but maintain the integrity of the investigation. Negotiations dragged for weeks, forcing the ship and its crew to languish offshore from Duluth.

Foreign vessels are allowed some discharge of oily water but are required to keep accurate records of it. The Coast Guard told the News Tribune earlier this week that inconsistent recordkeeping by a ship’s chief engineer could result in an expanded examination of a ship’s actions across time and sea passages.  

Pastor Douglas Paulson of the local Seafarers Center met with the crew Thursday morning as the Cornelia docked at the Duluth Seaway Port Authority’s Clure Public Marine Terminal. The crew was busy, prepping for departure — cleaning the septic system, refueling and more, he said.

“I visited with several of them,” Paulson said. “They all looked good; they were all in good spirits. I feel like they held up well, but they’re anxious to be on their way. It’s been a long time.”

Paulson took a shopping list of food items the sailors asked for — much of which could be purchased from a Holiday: Doritos, candy bars, soda and other snacks. Paulson also brought aboard a Wi-Fi hotspot so the sailors would be better able to contact their families.

The crew is made up of a diverse mixture of nationalities, hailing from Czech Republic, Ukraine, Croatia and Philippines. Until Thursday its members had been aboard the ship throughout the ordeal, last touching ground while the ship was docked at the CHS terminal in Superior in early November.

“There are a lot of things that have to happen so they can be ready to go tomorrow,” Paulson said Thursday, “but they’re ready to sail.”

The 575-foot Cornelia had been faced with a rough deadline of today to depart Duluth. After that, it would risk not reaching the Welland Canal between lakes Erie and Ontario by the time it closes for the season on Dec. 26.

Oceangoing vessels then need to exit the last set of locks in Montreal before the St. Lawrence Seaway System closes on Dec. 30. The Cornelia is scheduled to leave Duluth on the same day as the Federal Bering — both carrying grain, and one or the other the added distinction of being the last saltie out of Duluth in 2015.

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