- Associated Press - Friday, April 18, 2014

PORTAGE, Ind. (AP) - Oceangoing ships are once again cruising into Indiana’s main Lake Michigan port after overcoming the worst Great Lakes ice conditions in decades to start the port’s overseas shipping season.

The first two ships from abroad docked Thursday at the Port of Indiana in Portage, bringing shipments of steel from Holland for use by Midwest manufacturers.

The Federal Nakagawa and the Isolda had made tedious journeys through the Great Lakes’ lingering ice as the port’s international shipping season started weeks later than in 2013. This year’s frigid winter left the lakes more than 90 percent frozen over at one point, creating challenging maritime conditions for cargo ships.

Dockworkers were ready Thursday with towering red cranes to unload the ships’ cargo of steel coils so heavy that semi-trailer trucks can only haul one at a time.

In keeping with longstanding tradition, Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor director Rick Heimann presented the captains with ceremonial steel beer steins that symbolize northwestern Indiana’s enduring role as the steel capital of North America.

The captain of the 653-foot Isolda, Arkadiusz Sienkiewicz, said the trip from Cleveland to the Indiana port typically lasts two days, but took a week because of ice.

“The biggest ice was in the Mackinac Straits. First time I’ve seen so much ice on the lakes,” he told The Times of Munster (https://bit.ly/1kHFuio ).

Sienkiewicz said the ship’s cargo - metal forged at a steel mill in Ijmuiden, Holland - arrived in Portage in better condition than when it was loaded, since all the ice kept it dry.

After the ship docked at Portage, its crew saw their families for the first time in at least a week, via Skype. Members of the Isolda’s 23-person crew turned on their laptops and spoke with their loved ones back home in Poland.

Seven more ships, mostly carrying steel rebar and other steel products, are slated to arrive within the next 10 days after the port, which last year handled 2.5 million tons of cargo.

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Information from: The Times, https://www.thetimesonline.com

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