St. Lawrence Seaway marks 60th anniversary

The 60th anniversary of the St. Lawrence Seaway was marked Tuesday with the opening of the 2019 navigation season and the first vessel locking through en route to the Great Lakes.

The 656’x78’, 36,489-dwt bulk carrier Federal Kumano transited the St. Lambert Lock with a cargo of titanium chloride, bound for the Port of Ashtabula, Ohio, according to the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation.

“The St. Lawrence Seaway has a distinguished past, a dynamic and vital present and will continue to play a pivotal role in Canada’s economy in the future,” said Marc Garneau, Canada’s minister of transport, at a ceremony marking the day. “It is with that in mind that the Government of Canada is continuously working with the Seaway and its partners to look at opportunities for increased economic and commercial developments and to move towards a more sustainable future.”

The 2,300-mile Seaway opened in 1959 after a five-year, $1 billion joint construction project by Canada and the U.S. to enable passage of deep-draft shipping through the 600′ elevation between the Atlantic Ocean and upper Great Lakes.

During 2018 the Seaway moved 41 million metric tons of cargo through the locks, according to the non-profit management corporation, created in 1998 by the Canadian government. A series of lock upgrades, including a hands free mooring system and converting locks to remote operation, were completed last year.

Seaway officials say the waterway system and its cargoes support more than 329,000 jobs and $59 billion in economic activity in both nations. The Seaway had the distinction in 2002 of being the world’s first inland waterways to adopt the automatic identification system (AIS) to aid ship navigation and safety, and since 2010 Canadian operators have invested over $2 billion in new, lower emission vessels.

On the U.S. side, Great Lakes ports in 2018 recorded some of their highest cargo totals in recent year, with the economy spurring strong volumes of iron ore, petroleum products and grain. The aftermath of a cold, wet winter across much of the north-central U.S. will also bring higher volumes of salt this year as states and cities replenish their road salt reserves, Seaway officials predicted.

Ongoing trade negotiations between Canada and the Trump administration continue to inject uncertainty along with those growth trends.

“We are optimistic these trends will continue into the new season and off-season investments made by the St. Lawrence Seaway and local ports will make 2019 another great season for our members,” said Bruce Burrows, president of the St. Lawrence region’s Chamber of Marine Commerce. ”To shore up the economic strength of the bi-national Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region, we would also urge the U.S. government to drop steel and aluminum steel tariffs on Canadian imports and return to a fair and free trade environment between our two countries.”

In 2018, the Port of Duluth-Superior handled a total of 32.6 million metric tons of cargo, its highest mark since 2014. Iron ore tonnage outpaced the five-year average by more than 30%, with the 19.5 million metric tons shipped out of Duluth-Superior the highest in a single season since 1995. Grain exports also posted a 23% year-over-year increase, and with the Duluth Seaway Port Authority’s multimodal terminal expansion helped propel the 2018 tonnage increase.

“Manufacturing and steelmaking sectors are still looking strong for 2019, as all six taconite facilities on Minnesota’s Iron Range are operating at full capacity,” said Jayson Hron, a spokesman for the Duluth-Seaway Port Authority. “We hope the strong pace of grain exports continues well into 2019 and we anticipate a continued brisk pace for the movement of project cargo in and out of the heartland via the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System.”

The Port of Green Bay, Wis., moved more than two million tons of cargo in 2018; the first time the port has reached that mark since 2013. Green Bay saw a 14% increase in cargo over 2017, while the Port of Toledo, Ohio, handled more overseas vessels in 2018 than any year since 2006.

“Project cargo shipments will continue in 2019 in support of the construction of the Cleveland Cliffs Toledo Hot Briquetted Iron production facility and other large-scale projects in the region,” said Joe Cappel, vice president of business development for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. “Terminals are reporting that they expect 2019 tonnage results to be very similar to 2018. We could expect aluminum and steel shipments from Canada to rebound should the import tariff on these goods be reduced or eliminated.”

In 2018, Port Milwaukee international tonnage increased 30% compared to 2017, totaling 460,000 metric tons, due in part to the refurbishment of its liquid cargo pier and expanded barge and tanker activity.

Milwaukee port officials are also expecting an uptick in cruise ship visitation, with more than 10 cruising calls expected in 2019, a three-fold increase.

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