Seaway Tonnage: Midseason Update


Seaway Tonnage: Midseason Update

After a slow start to the 2018 navigation season, steady gains in cargo movements and transits in July and August have put overall Seaway cargo tonnage on the rise. Commercial cargo shipments through August totaled 21.4 million metric tons (mmt), a 4 percent increase when compared to the same time period in 2017. This overall increase was led by U.S. and Canadian grain exports (5.4 mmt, 16 percent increase) and liquid bulk shipments (2.8 mmt, 33 percent increase). Dry bulk shipments remained below last year’s levels with 5.4 mmt, a 4 percent decrease. The outlook for the remainder of the navigation season looks promising. Recent discussions with industry leaders suggest a strong performance this fall from the international fleet.

The opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway occurred about a week later than normal (March 29), resulting in lower tonnage levels over the first few months. However, by the midseason point, vessel transits and cargo tonnage picked up and exceeded 2017 levels. Historically, July and August are slower months and based on feedback from industry leaders, expectations for this season were no different than what was experienced in previous years. However, more foreign-flag vessels transited the Seaway than previous years during the summer months, which pushed cargo tonnage above last year’s levels. Top performing commodities moved on foreign-flag ships consisted of windmills, generators, heavy machinery, pig iron, gypsum, steel slabs, kaolin, and petroleum products. Backhaul cargoes for export consisted of U.S. and Canadian grain, general cargo, and petroleum products.

One of the most notable commodities reflecting a decrease in export activity is taconite iron ore from the Mesabi Iron Range in Minnesota. During the 2017 navigation season, iron ore was moving at record levels from the Lake Superior ports of Superior, Duluth, Two Harbors, and Silver Bay to the Port of Quebec and then transshipped to foreign markets.

In 2018, there has been a noticeable decrease in iron ore shipments moving out of the Great Lakes. It is estimated that a good portion of iron ore from the Mesabi Range has been moved by rail to domestic steel mills in the Great Lakes region that have recently come back on line. Domestic demand for iron ore is expected to continue as U.S. steel mills invest in expanding their operations and upgrading efficiencies.


SOURCE: Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, Seaway Compass, Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, U.S. Department of Transportation