Canadian owner puts Duluth’s Great Lakes fleet up for sale – Duluth News Tribune
DULUTH — In an earnings call last month, Canadian National Railway shared a desire to sell its Twin Ports-based fleet of Great Lakes ore carriers.
The move comes as the freight rail company reviews its non-rail businesses, including a trucking company, TransX.
“We are in negotiations regarding the disposal of the vessel Great Lakes (sic),” said Jean-Jacques Ruest, president, chief executive and director of CN, during a conference call with shareholders on January 25.
The Great Lakes fleet of lake freighters includes nine ore vessels, three of which are 1,000 feet. Its base of operations is located at the CN Ore Docks offices in Duluth, near West 34th Avenue. Vessels are itinerant, often visiting the local ore dock for loading, but only occasionally making a long-term visit. For example, there are no fleet members wintering in Duluth this off-season.
“A potential vessel sales process is progressing with some active bidders,” Helen Quirke, senior vice president and chief strategy officer, said in a transcript of the call. “But any transaction must be at a favorable value for us. Therefore, we are prepared to continue operating the vessels if an agreement is not reached at a value favorable to us.
Quirke further explained that while the ore boat fleet contributes to revenue, it dilutes the company’s operations.
Duluth Seaway Port Authority executive director Deb DeLuca said the agency is following the situation with interest.
“Great Lakes Fleet is a heritage brand in our port, with decades of history,” she said. “It’s an important part of the past, present and hopefully the future of our region’s maritime industry.”
The Great Lakes fleet is operated by local company, Key Lakes Inc., a workaround that allows the Canadian owner to apply its assets on the Great Lakes, between US ports – from ore mines in Minnesota to blast furnaces and to the country’s steel mills on the lower Great Lakes. The Jones Act prohibits foreign vessels from delivering cargo between US ports.
The Great Lakes Fleet is home to the popular Arthur M. Anderson, the last ship to communicate with the Edmund Fitzgerald before its infamous sinking in 1975.
Other ships in the fleet include the 1,000-foot Edgar B. Speer, Edwin H. Gott, and Près Isle, as well as the John G. Munson, Cason J. Callaway, Philip R. Clarke, and Great Republic.
A final vessel in the fleet, the Roger Blough, was badly damaged by fire in February 2021 during her winter layup in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.
CN has not shed light on Roger Blough’s current situation. At the time of the fire, the Sturgeon Bay Fire Department reported damage estimated at $20 million to the $100 million laker.
The Port Authority’s DeLuca noted the potential jobs at stake.
“The local jobs and commerce associated with porting the Great Lakes Fleet to Duluth are significant,” DeLuca said. “So we definitely want to see a good local result for the fleet and its employees.”