With just two weeks left of the season, U.S. Great Lakes ports and the St. Lawrence Seaway are reporting a rush of activity as manufacturers stockpile raw materials and businesses take advantage of the congestion-free waterway to export overseas.

“U.S. Great Lakes ports have roared back this year — recovering from major 2020 declines in traditional cargoes like iron ore and steel but also developing new business and seizing on opportunities for infrastructure investment. This story of recovery and renewal is mirrored in the latest St. Lawrence Seaway cargo numbers,” Bruce Burrows, president and CEO of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, said in a prepared statement. “Throughout the pandemic and amidst global supply chain disruptions, Great Lakes-Seaway shipping has once again proven it’s a reliable, ‘safe harbor’ in a storm.”

According to the latest figures from the St. Lawrence Seaway, general cargo shipments, including steel, aluminum, and oversized machinery, from March 22 to Nov. 30, are up 71%. Iron ore shipments are up 17%, while dry bulk shipments including construction materials like stone, cement and gypsum, have increased by 6%, compared to the same period last year.

Overall, cargo shipments via the Seaway between March 22 and Nov. 30 totaled 33.3 million metric tons, a rise of 1.7% from 2020. Slower grain exports due to smaller harvests compared to 2020 continue to offset the growth in other cargo sectors. Without grain factored in, overall tonnage numbers would be up 13%. 

At the Port of Cleveland, November general cargo tonnage improved by more than 50% compared to November 2020, which included gains in steel, project cargoes, and containers. In addition, business at its bulk terminal continued an upward trend due to the strong demand in iron ore. Overall, business levels are up significantly compared to 2020, and the port anticipates that continuing into 2022.   

David Gutheil, chief commercial officer for the Port of Cleveland, said: “The Port has experienced a significant increase in container activity due to the challenges in the global supply chain, as cargo owners search for alternatives to traditional coastal routings. We have positioned our port as a viable solution for container trade and are in the midst of significant discussions with numerous parties to further increase our container business at the start of the 2022 season.”

In November, the Port of Toledo surpassed 10 million tons for the season, 22% ahead of 2020 volumes. Iron ore continued to lead the surge, up more than 62% from the previous year fueled by activity at the Cleveland Cliffs direct reduction plant. Aluminum shipments bolstered general cargo tonnage that was up 26%, followed by coal up over 13%. 

"It has certainly been a good year so far for our seaport," said Joseph Cappel, vice president of business development for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.  "Not only is our tonnage up, but we are also continuing to make investments in our terminal facilities paving the way for a successful future."  

The Ohio Department of Transportation recently announced that the Port of Toledo would receive $3 million in grant funding through the Maritime Assistance Program for a new bulk material conveyor system and $4 million to add to the $20 million already allocated for rehabilitating the dock wall and constructing a liquid bulk transfer facility at the port's general cargo facility operated by Midwest Terminals.  

The Port of Monroe was also busy in November as vessels from the American Steamship Co. and Interlake Steamship Co. delivered cargoes of coal to the DTE Monroe Power Plant. The power plant received coal from both Superior, Wis., and Sandusky, Ohio.

The articulated tug/barge Undaunted/Pere Marquette 41 called on the Port of Monroe twice during November to load cargoes of synthetic gypsum. One load was delivered to Port Colborne, Ontario and one load to Alpena, Mich. December will be a busy month for the Port of Monroe with liquid asphalt and steel coil cargoes.

Nearly 3 million short tons of cargo transited the Port of Duluth-Superior in November 2021, topping last year’s November total by more than 10%.

Limestone ranked among the monthly highlights, with more than 407,000 short tons transiting Duluth-Superior through Nov. 30 — the highest November limestone tonnage total since 2010. Salt deliveries also surged, with more than 82,000 short tons arriving in the port. 

For the season, iron ore continues to reign as the port’s tonnage king, closing in on 18 million short tons through Nov. 30. That total ranks 21.7% ahead of the five-season average and 37.1% above last year’s pace. 

Tracking second behind iron ore, coal and petcoke enjoyed a strong November with more than 860,000 short tons transiting the port. Season-to-date, more than 6.8 million short tons of coal and petcoke have moved through Duluth-Superior, a total exceeding last year’s pace by more than 2 million short tons.

General cargo closed out the November highlights with nearly 7,000 short tons moving through the port. This pushed the seasonal total over 42,000 short tons, which is more than double the five-season average.