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Shipping link to EU off to sluggish start

Shipping link to EU off to sluggish start

BRUSSELS: An arrangement that would connect the Port of Duluth-Superior with western Europe is off to a slower start than expected.

Originally billed in 2014 as a monthly service from the Netherlands to Duluth’s Clure Public Marine Terminal, the Amsterdam-based dry cargo specialist Spliethoff’s first vessel of the season reached the Twin Ports just last weekend.

The 448-foot Florijngracht anchored on Lake Superior off Duluth for a couple days before it was expected to dock in the terminal late Monday night or early Tuesday morning.

I don’t want to be pessimistic, but we were disappointed,” said Ron Johnson, trade development director for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. “These things happen.”

Johnson explained that the strength of the American dollar coupled with a slumping European economy made it so that too many available ships were chasing a limited amount of cargo.

Things got tight on available cargo,” Johnson said.

Spliethoff vessels made three voyages into Duluth last year. The company operates 50 relatively small ships — “tweendeck vessels,” its website says — and has access to 100 ships total within a greater Spliethoff Group. Its nimble versatility is part of the Spliethoff appeal, allowing smaller companies with smaller loads access to the world’s shipping lanes.

But, “there were so many ships available, especially bigger ships coming to the (East) Coast, that they cut their rates and it makes it difficult for Spliethoff to cut rates,” said Johnson, who added Spliethoff would have been “crazy to operate just to lose (its) shirt.”

For its part, Spliethoff is not giving up on the interior of North America. It is currently shipping twice monthly into Cleveland, a spokeswoman said, and also has reached ports in Milwaukee, Detroit and Toledo, Ohio. In June, Spliethoff’s 411-foot Faglegracht became the first European ship to call on the port of Monroe, Mich., since the 1960s.

The port director there, Paul LaMarre III, told the Monroe News, “This is proof that our capabilities are far-reaching.”

Spliethoff, too, continues to see value in reaching farther inland on the Great Lakes.

Duluth is the key to the interior of the Upper Midwest of the United States and also branches to Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan,” said Spliethoff spokeswoman Jamie Tolis from the company’s Montreal office. “It’s ideally situated for us.”