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What's up with that ship? A look at one of the Great Lake's largest ships

Milwaukee is a maritime city, which means seeing ships and vessels docked at our port are a part of our everyday life. You’ve probably seen the St. Mary’s Challenger, a 551-foot freight vessel launched in 1906, with a gray hull and bold lettering. Then there’s the S.V. Dennis Sullivan, a schooner that resembles a pirate ship docked by Discovery World in the summer. 

And there’s another one we at Radio Milwaukee keep spotting. Perhaps you’ve seen it, too, driving on Kinnickinnick by the Port of Milwaukee or coming into the harbor. It’s a “can’t-be-missed” red.

So we're wondering, what is this ship? What’s it carrying? Mostly freight?

Thankfully we have some answers from Chrissy Kadleck of The Interlake Maritime Services and Adam Tindall-Schlict, director of Port Milwaukee.

“The vessel that is currently in Milwaukee Harbor at the port is called the Stewart J. Cort,” says Tindall-Schlicht. 

Chrissy Kadleck of Interlake Maritime Services says that the Stewart J. Cort carries only iron-ore. Particularly Kadleck says, “she has a dedicated run between Superior, Wisconsin and Burns Harbor, Indiana. She loads iron ore in Superior and delivers it to the Cleveland-Cliffs steel mill in Burns Harbor.”

The Stewart J. Cort was built in 1972 and can carry over 58,000 gross tons of material. That’s a lot of iron-ore but the Stewart J. Cort can handle it.

“It's a bulk carrier,” says Tindall-Schlicht. “What that means is rather than using containers to hold an array of commodities, dry bulk cargo such as iron ore is put directly into the hull of the vessel and can be transported from port A to port Z.”

The Stewart J. Cort was the the region’s first “thousand footer” and was purpose-built for traversing the Great Lakes.

“She was built in a way to maximize the amount of size that she could have to carry cargo within the Great Lakes while safely fitting through the Soo locks,” says Tindall-Schlicht. 

The Soo Locks are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and allow ships like the Stewart J. Cort access to Lake Superior and Lake Huron. “If she was built any larger than that, she wouldn't have access to Lake Superior and the U.S./Canadian ports that are on the Great Lakes,” says Tindall-Schlicht.

Kadleck says the Stewart J. Cort is one of nine vessels The Interlake Steamship Company holds. Along with the other eight vessels Kadleck says the Stewart J. Cort moves about 20 million tons of iron ore, coal, stone and salt during a shipping season. 

Tindall-Schlicht says that shipping contributes a great deal to the Midwest economy.

“In 2018 there was an economic impact study completed which showed that Port Milwaukee's continued multi-modal transportation contributes over a $100,000,000 a year to our region's economy,” says Tindall-Schlicht. “We are a backbone and a foundation to local supply chains and logistics that depend on having access to international and domestic shipping.”

Right now the Stewart J. Cort is docked at the Port Milwaukee and is getting routine repairs. The port has 15 docks and was designed specifically to hold large ships like the Stewart J. Cort and others that are some of the Great Lakes' largest vessels. 

If you happen to be driving by, you might see the Stewart J. Cort undergoing maintenance or perhaps just resting and taking the views of Lake Michigan. Come spring time she’ll be heading to distant and nearby shores again.

Editor's note: An earlier version of the story stated that the Stewart J. Cort carries salt and other goods that are needed. However the Stewart J. Cort currently only carries iron-ore.