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Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway shipping the highest in more than a decade

A cargo ship sails down the St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada. International shipping on the seaway and Great Lakes had its best year in a decade in 2018.

All the clamor about tariffs and trade wars did not slow down international trade on the Great Lakes last year.

International shipping through the Saint Lawrence Seaway into the Great Lakes had its best year in more than a decade. The Great Lakes Seaway Partnership reported that international ships on the Great Lakes, known as salties, shipped 40.9 tons during the 2018 shipping season, a 7 percent year-over-year increase and the most since 2007.

Vessels shipped 12.1 million tons of grain, a 20 percent year-over-year increase, 10.7 million tons of dry bulk, a 3 percent year-over-year increase, and 4.5 million tons of liquid bulk, a 22 percent year-over-year increase.

“Total tonnage on the St. Lawrence Seaway exceeded the 5-, 10-, and 15-year averages, making 2018 an exceptionally strong shipping season, the best in over a decade,” said Craig Middlebrook, deputy administrator of the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. “In particular, we were pleased to see heightened activity on the seaway in December. Overall gains in year-over-year commodity increases were widespread, most notably in U.S. grain export trade. The investments in seaway infrastructure and technology are achieving greater efficiencies for our customers and enhancing the binational waterway’s global competitiveness.”

Total vessel transits were up nearly 6 percent as compared to 2017. Despite tariffs of 25 percent of all foreign-made steel, cargoes of steel slabs rose 53 percent to 750,000 tons.

Great Lakes ports like the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor in Porter County and the Port of Chicago on the South Side typically receive high-value finished products like steel, beer tanks and wind turbines from abroad, and ship out grains and other crops to international markets.

“The 2018 navigation season was an exceptional year for the Illinois International Port District,” Executive Director Clayton Harris III, said. “This is attributed to our diversification of cargo, which was enabled by empowering our maritime and logistics operator, North American Stevedoring Company, and maximizing the potential of Federal Trade Zone #22. These strategies encouraged more shippers to call on our port and bring more specialized cargo such as copper and aluminum than previous years.”

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.