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First ocean-going ship of the season arrives at Port of Indiana Burns Harbor, kicking off international trade

First ocean-going ship of the season arrives at Port of Indiana Burns Harbor, kicking off international trade

The first ocean-going ship arrived Monday at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor, kicking off the international shipping season during which Northwest Indiana trades goods with the world.

The M/V Muntgracht, a 466-foot general cargo carrier, brought a cargo of 1,650 tons of wind turbine hubs and nacelles from Bilbao, Spain, after a five-day passage through the St. Lawrence Seaway. The deepwater port on Lake Michigan skipped the traditional ceremony, in which a Steel Stein symbolizing Northwest Indiana's place as "steel capital of North America" is presented to the first ship's captain, because of the ongoing coronavirus public health crisis.

“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.”

Captain Folkert Pans and a crew of 16 sailors guided the Netherlands-flagged M/V Muntgracht vessel to the Port of Burns Harbor in Porter County. The stevedore Federal Marine Terminals unloaded the towering ship, known as a salty, before it headed to its next stop at the Thunder Bay Port in Canada, where it was loaded with a shipment it will take back to Europe.

Ships pass between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway, which opened its locks on April 1. That was about 10 days later than normal because of 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 Corp. “While the opportunities and challenges change each year, what remains constant are the safety, reliability, efficiency and environmental performance advantages of waterborne transportation.”

About 75 international vessels are expected to come to the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor this year, many carrying cargo for the energy sector. 

“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.”

Last year, the port handled about 1.6 million tons of cargo. That was about 6% down from the previous year because of tariffs, trade disputes, and higher water levels than normal through the St. Lawrence Seaway.

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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.

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