Another Safe & Reliable Navigation Season for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System

The Resilience of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System Empowers Another Safe & Reliable Navigation Season

More than 38 Million Tons of Cargo Moved; Exceptional Season for Iron Ore & Steel Cargo Shipments

Washington, D.C. (March 8, 2022) – The Great Lakes Seaway Partnership reported consistent gains during the 2021 navigation season, including a remarkable year for iron ore, steel, and other commodities commonly utilized in construction and manufacturing industries. The safe and reliable Great Lakes Seaway shipping season resulted in an increase of 1.66 percent for St. Lawrence Seaway (Seaway) traffic. More than 38 million metric tons of cargo shipped through the Seaway from the opening of the Navigation Season on March 22, 2021, through December 31, 2021 (i.e., Year-to-date or YTD). Additionally, total transits YTD reached 3,918 vessels, a 1.61 percent increase compared to transits through December last year. A deeper analysis of cargo tonnage reveals several categories that surged during this period. The top-performing cargos throughout the 2021 Navigation Season included:

• Iron Ore — 6,954,000 metric tons; 14.38 percent* increase
• Dry Bulk — 11,260,000 metric tons; 6.89 percent* increase
• Liquid Bulk — 3,230,000 metric tons; 4.96 percent* increase
• General Cargo — 3,904,000 metric tons; 72.98 percent* increase
*Percentages rounded to nearest tenth

“The 2021 navigation season was another consistent year for the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation,” said Craig H. Middlebrook, Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. “We had one of our safest seasons ever, with only four ocean vessel incidents. U.S. Locks were available 99.9 percent of the time, and the overall system availability, taking into account any reason for not being able to navigate, including weather, was open 99.5 percent of the time. In a year that’s been marked by sudden, unexpected, and prolonged disruptions, the resiliency of the Seaway and the dependability of its operations are worth noting.”

PHOTO: Port of Duluth-Superior

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The 2021 navigation season opened with vessels moving various commodities for the food and beverage industry and the automotive sector to multiple U.S. and Canadian ports. This binational supply chain network for North American manufacturers was continuously re-stocked throughout the year. While the Great Lakes maintained its role as a dependable food supply chain, both U.S. and Canadian grain export tonnage was impacted by severe drought conditions in the Western states and Canadian prairie. Overall, agricultural export volumes decreased in 2021 with one of the bright spots of the season being a rebound in the Eastern Lakes’ soybean crop yields that were decimated by flooding in 2019. It is anticipated that the rebound for agriculture will continue into the 2022 navigation season.

“The 2022 Navigation Season is already shaping up to be a strong year for the Port of Cleveland. We are expecting to build on the success we achieved in 2021 as we continue to position Cleveland – and the Great Lakes – as a key destination for cargo,” David Gutheil, Chief Commercial Officer, Port of Cleveland.

The Port of Cleveland saw a 69 percent increase in tonnage across its docks in 2021 compared to 2020. This surge was attributed to significant increases in non-containerized goods, containerized cargo, and iron ore shipments to the Cleveland-Cliffs Cleveland Works steel mill.

Early in 2021, the Port completed two major infrastructure projects that paved the way for the increased cargo volumes. First, the Port expanded its iron ore tunnel at the Cleveland-Bulk Terminal, providing additional capacity for the movement of iron ore. Additionally, the Port opened a new modernized and expanded main gate at its general cargo facility, which allows for the more efficient movement of trucks, decreases wait times for drivers, and more efficiently moves cargo on/off Port property. The Port also reactivated the Foreign Trade Zone space at the general cargo terminal, leading to additional volumes and cost savings for numerous Port clients.

PHOTO: Port of Cleveland

Cargo owners sought new solutions with the Port of Cleveland in 2021 due to continuing issues in the global supply chain. Container volume doubled compared to 2020 as shippers changed their routings from large coastal ports to alternative ports such as Cleveland. Learn more at

Rebounding from pandemic-induced lows in 2020, total maritime tonnage through the Port of Duluth-Superior climbed to 32.9 million short tons in 2021. This total represented a 27 percent season-over-season increase and a 2.3 percent improvement over the five-season average. “We hoped for a return to normalcy in 2021 and a tonnage rebound from the pandemic-plagued 2020 season,” said Deb DeLuca, Executive Director, Duluth Seaway Port Authority. “We’re still waiting on the return to normalcy, but the tonnage bounce back was pronounced, driven especially by strong demand for domestic steel.”

Iron ore, the Port’s leading cargo by tonnage, led the upswing. The total taconite float topped 20 million short tons for the second time in four seasons, an unmatched feat since the early 1990s. In all, 20.4 million short tons of iron ore transited Duluth-Superior during the 2021 season, a 32.6 percent season-over-season spike and 11.9 percent gain on the five-season average. “Our port continues to be a key link in North America’s supply chain, and we look forward to playing an increasingly prominent role in 2022 as we hopefully build on the bulk cargo tonnage and expand our containerized cargo services,” said DeLuca. Learn more at
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The Port of Monroe continues to strengthen its role as a regional distribution hub for wind energy projects in the 2022 shipping season and beyond.

PHOTO: Port of Monroe

“The tonnage moved by terminal operator DRM Terminal Services (226,394 metric tons) during the 2021 shipping season is the highest number since DRM partnered with the Port of Monroe in 2014,” said Paul LaMarre III, Port Director, Port of Monroe.

In 2022, the Port will take delivery of a new 165-ton Manitowoc crawler crane and see significant dredging activity with the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Additionally, the Port will build out the first marine container terminal in the state of Michigan, scheduled to open in 2023. Learn more at


The Ports of Indiana-Burns Harbor’s 2021 international tonnage increased 135 percent in 2021 compared to 2020.

In 2021, Indiana-Burns Harbor pulled in Canadian salt tons, a first for the Port. The Port also cites an increase in steel slabs from 2020. Additionally, steel coils from a new mill source increased the Port’s overall steel coils number.

“2021 was ripe for opportunities,” said Port director Ryan McCoy. “We had several non-scheduled freight shipments that landed at just the right time. Our infrastructure was ready, and we were able to capture new projects. It was a banner year.”


2021 Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway Key Performance Indicators**
2020* 2021* Change (+/-)
Total Transits 3,856 3,918 1.61%
Total Cargo (MT) 37,762,000 38,136,000 0.99%
MT = Metric Tons

*Combined U.S. and Canadian traffic

**All data is compared year-over-year. Shipments for 2020 from April 1 to December 31. Shipments for 2021 from March 22 to December 31.


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2021 Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway Key Commodity Trackers***
2020* 2021* Change (+/-)**
Grain 13,302,000 10,601,000 -20.31%
Iron Ore 6,080,000 6,954,000 14.38%
Cement & Clinkers 1,873,000 1,962,000 4.74%
Coke 1,327,000 1,546,000 16.50%
Iron & Steel 1,283,000 2,695,000 109.99%
Gypsum 859,000 896,000 4.21%
Steel Slabs 503,000 748,000 48.54%
Stone 242,000 363,000 49.99%
Potash 208,000 533,000 156.05%
Ores & Concentrates 188,000 290,000 54.28%
Containerized Cargo 72,000 71,000 -1.75%
MT = Metric Tons

*Combined U.S. and Canadian traffic

**Percentages rounded to nearest tenth

***All data is compared year-over-year. Shipments for 2020 from April 1 to December 31. Shipments for 2021 from March 22 to December 31.

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About the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System serves a dynamic economic region that includes eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. If the region were a country, it would have the 3rd largest economy in the world with a GDP of $5.5 trillion – after the United States and China. The region is home to 107 million people and accounts for almost 40 percent of the total cross-border trade between the U.S. and Canada.

Great Lakes-Seaway shipping is a part of the foundation for this vibrant economy. More than 160 million metric tons of commercial cargo are transported on the waterway each year, providing low-cost and efficient transportation for the region’s manufacturing, mining, agriculture, and energy sectors. Great Lakes-Seaway shipping lifts American and Canadian economies on an annual basis by supporting:
• 237,868 jobs
• $35 billion in economic activity
• $14.2 billion in personal income and local consumption expenditures
• $6.6 billion in federal, state/provincial, and local tax revenue

About the Great Lakes Seaway Partnership
The Great Lakes Seaway Partnership is a coalition of leading U.S. and Canadian maritime organizations working to enhance public understanding of the benefits of commercial shipping in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway region of North America. The organization manages an education-focused communications program, sponsors research and works closely with media, policymakers, community groups, allied industries, environmental stakeholders, and the general public to highlight the positive attributes of marine transportation.

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