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Great Lakes shipping season resumes

A lake freighter enters The Port of Indiana headed for ArcelorMittal last year.

Lake freighters from Duluth and ships from all across the globe will start converging on Northwest Indiana again now that it's spring and the frozen Great Lakes are warming up.

The Soo Locks up in northern Michigan opened Sunday, and the St. Lawrence Seaway reopens later this week as the Great Lakes shipping season resumes after the annual winter hiatus.

The season's first commercial vessels passed through the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Sunday after U.S. Coast Guard cutters broke ice in Lake Superior, Bay of Green Bay, Straits of Mackinac and the St. Mary's River.

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"With more than 50 percent of Lake Superior still covered with ice, the majority of ice breaking resources will be positioned above the Soo Locks," the U.S. Coast Guard said in a news release. "This leaves the Coast Guard Cutter Hollyhock, Coast Guard Cutter Neah Bay, and Coast Guard Cutter Mobile Bay to manage the ice remaining in the lower river, Straits of Mackinac, Bay of Green Bay and Georgian Bay. The U.S. Coast Guard is committed to keeping critical waterways throughout the Great Lakes open to the safe transport of commercial shipments and works closely with the Canadian Coast Guard to achieve that goal."

The locks on the St. Mary's River let ships travel from Lake Superior to the southern Great Lakes, including the ore boats that come from the Iron Ore Range in Minnesota down Lake Michigan to Northwest Indiana's steel mills. 

On Thursday, the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. plans to reopen the seaway that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, allowing international vessels from all over the world to pass into the Great Lakes and down to the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor in Portage. The seaway, a series of 13 locks between Montreal and Lake Erie, supports 227,000 jobs and $34 billion in economic activity in the United States and Canada, according to a study commissioned by Marine Delivers.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.