The first ocean-going vessel arrived April 13 at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor, opening the 2020 international shipping season. Port officials welcomed the mv. Muntgracht, a 466-foot general cargo carrier, after its five-day voyage through the St. Lawrence Seaway to the deepwater port on Lake Michigan.
Ordinarily, the arrival of the first ocean-going ship of the year is the impetus for the traditional Steel Stein ceremony, symbolizing northwest Indiana’s role as “steel capital of North America.” However, the ceremony was canceled this year because of the current global pandemic precautions.
“The arrival of the first international ship of the year is always an exciting time as it signifies the prosperity the vessels help deliver to our region,” Port Director Ian Hirt said. “While we can’t celebrate in our traditional way, we are grateful for the commitment of our international partners to help deliver important cargo and products to global markets.”
Nearly 1,650 tons of wind turbine hubs and nacelles shipped from Bilbao, Spain, will be unloaded from the Muntgracht by port stevedore Federal Marine Terminals. Upon completion in Burns Harbor, the Netherlands-flagged Muntgracht will travel to Thunder Bay Port in Canada to load the next shipment, which it will take to Europe.
Hirt expects approximately 75 international vessels this year, a significant increase over last year, and he anticipates most of the additional shipments to be energy-related cargo.
“Many of the components for the natural gas-powered electrical plants and the wind turbines are made internationally,” Hirt said. “As the Midwest pivots from coal to natural gas and renewable energy sources, it makes sense for our port to handle the large-dimensional cargo and transload to the nearby final destination.”
Maritime operations at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor generate nearly $4.9 billion per year in economic activity and support more than 39,000 total jobs. The port handled nearly 2.6 million tons of cargo in 2019, a 6 percent decrease from 2018, due in part to high water levels and trade uncertainty.
The St. Lawrence Seaway opened its locks to ocean vessels on April 1, approximately a 10-day delay in an effort to alleviate high water levels on Lake Ontario.
“Every navigation season brings opportunities and challenges, and the 2020 season will be no different, said Craig Middlebrook, deputy administrator of the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. “While the opportunities and challenges change each year, what remains constant are the safety, reliability, efficiency and environmental performance advantages of waterborne transportation.”