Great Lakes-Seaway cargo up 7 percent in 2021

(OTTAWA, Ontario) — A new systemwide report from the Chamber of Marine Commerce shows that Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway ships carried an estimated 149 million metric tons of cargo to and from domestic ports, and to overseas markets during the 2021 shipping season — an increase of 7 percent over pandemic-stricken 2020.

“This report paints a clear picture that the bi-national Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System supported the economic recovery and growth of many of our key industries in both Canada and the U.S. The navigation system delivered critical raw materials and products without any of the delay or disruption seen in other global markets,” said Bruce R. Burrows, president and CEO of the Chamber of Marine Commerce. “In today’s high-inflation business environment, it’s more important than ever that we focus our attention and investment on this unique inland marine highway as part of the solution to many of our national transportation and supply chain problems.”

The bulk carrier Osogovo berths at Thunder Bay Terminals in April, where it took on potash. Michael Hull photo

The 2021 Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System Tonnage Activity report, the only data resource of its kind that annually collects and analyzes Canadian-flag, U.S.-flag and foreign-flag tonnage for the bi-national navigation system, provides an overview of the key cargo commodities and their underlying economic and business drivers.

The findings of the report show:

• Overall, cargo shipments on the bi-national navigation system totaled 149 million metric tons, up 7 percent over 2020. The results demonstrate significant progress in the system’s post-pandemic recovery — with total cargo reaching 94 percent of its pre-pandemic 2019 level.

• Iron ore continues to be the most traded commodity on the system, accounting for roughly a third of total cargo tonnage. Canadian and U.S. ships carried iron ore from Minnesota and/or Quebec mines to support the resurgence of steel manufacturing in both countries, while pellets were also carried to Quebec ports for export overseas.

• Across the region, materials such as stone, cement and steel were in hot demand for housing and commercial/infrastructure-related construction projects in both Canada and the U.S.

• Canadian-flag ships carried 63.2 million metric tons of cargo, a decrease of 1.3 percent compared to 2020. This was still a strong performance, however, with total cargo carried reaching 98 percent of the five-year average. While commodities like general cargo, stone, steel, cement and overall dry bulk posted increases – these were offset by a 10 percent decrease in grain shipments following a much smaller prairie harvest. Petroleum shipments also fell by 5.7 percent (after a 6.6 percent decline in 2020) due to continuing work-from-home trends and travel restrictions in 2021.

• U.S.-flag ships carried 74.2 million metric tons (81.8 million net tons) – up 16.8 percent over 2020. Total cargo tonnage bounced back to 99 percent of its five-year average. Iron ore and coal shipments were up 12.4 percent and 43 percent, respectively, recovering significantly from pandemic lows.

• Foreign-flag ships transported 11.6 million metric tons of cargo through the St. Lawrence Seaway to and from overseas destinations — matching 2020’s performance. Oceangoing vessels played an important role in importing specialty steel from Europe, other project cargo and exporting grain to overseas destinations.

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System connects Canada to the United States and connects inland North America to other parts of the world through the Atlantic Ocean. Stretching west from Lake Superior to the end of the St. Lawrence Seaway (at Montreal), this bi-national trade corridor facilitates billions of dollars of economic activity annually and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs.

* Canadian-flag vessel tonnage data was sourced from the major Canadian domestic shipowners, while the foreign-flag vessel tonnage and U.S.-flag vessel tonnage data was provided by the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. and the Lake Carriers’ Association (LCA), respectively.

– Chamber of Marine Commerce

By Rich Miller