Nothing new now, but I have a scoop from long ago

In the old days, I was sometimes a good source for information about the port. Sometimes I even knew stuff I wasn’t supposed to talk about. Other times, I could and that was fun. Nowadays, I read the paper to find out about the exciting stuff; well not yet so exiting. The Duluth News Tribune had a picture of the Cornelia at anchor off the Duluth piers on their front page this morning (November 7, 2015). The above is the picture I took this morning. There was big news but the News Tribune didn’t know what the news was. I was happy to find out from them that there was news. I still don’t know why she is out there either. I refer you to the article for the list of people who will not tell them (us) what is going on. The US Attorney says the ship is being held there (by the Coast Guard, I assume) as a part of a federal probe. Hmmm.

Many years ago, when I was better connected (before 9-11), I found out a ship was coming to Duluth under armed guard. I got a ride out to the ship at anchor and was lucky enough to come in with her later in the day. She had many other names before she was decommissioned in 2011.

Radnik: 1984-1996
Grant Carrier: 1996-2001
Chios Sailor: 2001-2007
Elpida: 2007-2009
Chios Voyager: 2009-2011
Kai Shun: 2011 until decommissioned

Read below to find out about that adventure.

On July 5 the Grant Carrier and her crew of 27 left Odessa, a Ukrainian city on the Black Sea, on their way to Duluth. At the time, no ship with Yugoslavian officers was allowed in U.S. waters unless accompanied by armed guards, supplied by the Coast Guard and paid for by the shipowner. That was because our (NATO) planes were bombing their cities at the time.
So the Grant Carrier came to Duluth on August 17, 1999 with a contingent of five armed (but friendly) Coast Guard sailors. The officers and crew were indeed from Yugoslavia, many from Kotor, a city on the coast of the Adriatic Sea in Montenegro.
The ship arrived and dropped anchor and waited for a party of local port officials to come out. I went out with them and took a gamble and asked the captain if I could stay aboard until the ship came in later that afternoon. (The gamble being the possibility that plans would change and the ship would stay at anchor, perhaps for days. There is no regularly scheduled transportation between the Duluth shore and a ship at anchor.
Above, Ship Captain Tomislav Radovic is at his desk talking with his guards; below, he is reading the latest issue of the Duluth Shipping News.
Above, and 2 below, Grant Carrier crew members.
The guards and the guarded lined up in a row. Below, later that afternoon, the ship, the guards and me come into Duluth
We came in under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge late that afternoon, as promised. Both the Coast Guard and Captain Radovic and crew were out waving to the crowd, none of whom had any idea the guys in blue outfits were wearing pistols and guarding the ship.
As soon as we docked, the Coast Guard left the ship for more private quarters in a local hotel, glad to be back on American soil. The officers and crew were just as interested in getting off the ship to see the sights in Duluth. The next evening, I was walking down Lake Avenue in Canal Park with Captain Radovic and First Mate Pajovic when we passed Grandma’s Sport’s Garden. Both men started to wave at someone playing pool inside. As we walked on, I asked whom they could possibly know in Duluth. Answer: their friendly Coast Guard ‘protectors’ were taking a break playing a few games of pool. I of course set aside the thought that they might be following us, although the captain did tell me that he had also run into them the night before.

On the evening the ship left Duluth, I went aboard with an armful of Port Authority coffee cups and passed them out to the crew. Some crewmembers left our deck party immediately but returned within minutes with gifts for me. They started with cigarettes and lighters, even though I insisted I didn’t smoke. I quickly realized that it was the thought that counts in these matters.

Others came back with beautiful maps of the area around Kotor. Kotor is a medieval city, and the pictures clearly showed the remains of the wall built centuries ago to protect the city from invaders. As we sat on the deck in Duluth, five of them pointed to houses in the pictures where they live, or once lived. They were so insistent on making sure I knew that they were nice, peace-loving people, as were the people of Montenegro, that I almost could not get off the ship. I was surely convinced, as I walked down the gangway to drive back to the ship canal.

Above and below, my scans of the 2 posters the crew gave me.
Old salts tell me the Grant Carrier was the first ship ever to come into Duluth under armed guard, and I had the scoop. I went up and down the piers passing out the Duluth Shipping News and telling people that the ship with the armed guards was coming soon. The crew was hyped, and I had suggested to the captain that he do some serious work with the ship’s whistle when they came under the bridge.

I was still not prepared for what happened. As the ship came around the buoy and approached the bridge, the entire crew was out on the deck, and not just standing there. They were all jumping up and down and waving. The captain hit the horn just before the ship went under the bridge, and he didn’t take his hand off until the ship was leaving the canal.

Those of us on the ground returned the jumping and the noise to the ship; it was quite a moment. I felt we had all made a small contribution to a better world given that our two countries were at war.

And, I almost forgot, the Grant Carrier was docked the Cargill Elevator to load grain.


  1. Ranko Vukčević says:

    Hi Kenneth!
    Your post is from November, and I hope you’ll still see this comment. Believe it or not, it was my grandfather, Velimir Vukčević, who commissioned this ship for Jugooceanija (Yugoslav shipping company based in Kotor, Montenegro) in the early 1980’s. My father still lives in Kotor and he has a model of the ship my grandfather received together with the Omega watch that has an engraving of the ship’s name “Radnik” on the back and which will be passed to me this year (YEY!). Many years ago, I was following the ship on some maritime website, while it was sailing under Chinese flag (I think), but then it disappeared. Now I realized it was decommissioned. I was searching for some info today, also looking for photos to show to my girlfriend, and then I stumbled upon your story. Great one and many thanks for sharing! I will have to translate it for my father. 🙂
    All the best from Berlin, Germany!


    AP story today says they are being held indefinitely for environmental violations that did not occur in Duluth.

  3. Paul Badovinac says:

    Nice Story. Switching gears, is there a remote possibility that the Cornelia could be stuck on the lakes after the Locks and seaway closes?


  4. Visit Duluth frequently.Check the boat schedule first thing when we get it up there.

  5. Almost hate to say this. If I’m wondering and my closest lake is Erie, surely others are. Considering what happened in Paris shouldn’t the authorities say something more specific about what’s going on with the Cornelia? The DNT FB page already has some suspicions that are a bit worrisome. Especially since the ship is STILL out there. Hope those guys aren’t going bonkers out there.

  6. Awesome story. I was a USCG ship inspector for 5 years and loved meeting the international crew members on every boarding. I especially loved when the inspections took to long and we got to eat lunch on board!

  7. Great story. War, while sometimes necessary, always has innocent casualties on both sides. No matter different we are, we are all still the same. Your thoughts and stories are always much appreciated.

  8. One of my goals in life is to visit Kotor and try to find someone; i do have most of their names so maybe they or some of their family may still be around 16 years later; of course the town has been around for hundreds of years

    • I came around this article in a quite unusual way so that I can hardly describe to you how happy I was. It is always nice to hear nice words about people who are close to you. Captain Radovic is my father, and I heard his side of this story for numerous times. The initially unpleasant adventure turned to be the one worth remembering. My father, unfortunately passed away five years ago and it is still very hard for us to get over it. He was always against war, like majority of people in Montenegro (the smallest country of Ex Yugoslavia). If you decide to come to Kotor, we would be very pleased to extend our hospitality to you. Kotor i s worth visiting for sure. Thank you one more time for sharing your memories. Best regards, Marija

  9. nice story. wonder how things worked out for the crew when they got home?

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