Great Lakes ports and the St. Lawrence Seaway are reporting an uptick in cargo shipments this season, a reflection of the economic upturn in North America, according to the Chamber of Marine Commerce. From the opening of the season on March 22 through April 30, shipments via the St. Lawrence Seaway totaled 4 million metric tons, a 3.7% increase from the same time period in 2020. 

“Marine shipping is a bellwether for what’s happening in the wider economy. These first numbers of the Great Lakes-Seaway shipping season, particularly the increased demand for construction and steel-making materials, are a positive sign that the U.S. and Canadian economies continue to rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Bruce Burrows, president and CEO of the chamber said in a prepared statement.  

Construction materials, including cement imports from Canada, boosted shipments of dry bulk cargoes via the Seaway by 1.6% over the start of the 2020 season. General cargo shipments in April increased 23.2% from this time last year, including iron and steel cargo which increased 58%. Grain (including Canadian and U.S.), one of the strongest performers through the Seaway in 2020, was up nearly 10% in April. 

The Port of Duluth-Superior floated nearly 4.2 million short tons of cargo through April 30; a 48% increase over this timeframe in 2020 and a 23% improvement on the five-season average.

Domestic dry bulk shipments drove the early-season positivity, with outbound domestic tonnage doubling the 2020 pace. In a stark contrast to last year, coal and coke shipments started brisk, totaling more than a million shorts tons. Iron ore tonnage also surged in April, topping 2.7 million short tons, exceeding the 2020 pace by 21% and the five-season average by 19%. Domestic grain tonnage is also up 18%.

Inbound cargoes, like cement and limestone, also had a good start with tonnages significantly exceeding the five-season average.

“It’s been a very good start to what we expect will be a bounce-back season for the Port of Duluth-Superior after the Covid-induced lows of 2020,” said Deb DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. “Along with total tonnage, our vessel count is also up dramatically, and we’re certainly hoping that trend continues throughout the season. It’s encouraging to see the high level of activity in our harbor and throughout the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System.”

The Port of Toledo is off to a solid start for the 2021 shipping season. “We’ve already handled over 1 million tons of iron ore which is a good indication that steel demand will be strong in 2021,” said Joseph Cappel, VP business development for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. “We are excited about the 2021 shipping season for several reasons. The Cleveland Cliffs hot briquetted iron facility will be in full production this year which will drive substantial vessel activity at the Ironville terminal. Also, our new massive Liebherr 550 mobile harbor crane recently arrived and is being assembled giving us additional capabilities for bulk and project cargo handling.  We are also rebuilding the dock wall at Midwest Terminals and making improvements at the Toledo Shipyard. We’ve been looking forward to these milestones for some time and are excited that the projects are coming to fruition.”