Smooth Sailing: Great Lakes Seaway Shipping Increases While Global Supply Chain Experiences Disruption & Freight Woes

Washington, D.C. (November 17, 2021) – The Great Lakes Seaway Partnership today reported an increase of 1.92 percent for St. Lawrence Seaway (Seaway) traffic. An overall total of 28,494,000 metric tons of cargo shipped through the Seaway from the opening of the Seaway on March 22, 2021, through October 31, 2021 (i.e., Year-to-date or YTD). Additionally, total transits YTD reached 2,976 vessels, a 1.33 percent increase compared to transits through October last year. This consistent growth in traffic for the Great Lakes Seaway System is evidence that the system is not experiencing the same degree of supply chain disruptions or congestion compared to coastal ports or elsewhere globally.


“In October, the Seaway System saw a noticeable increase in cargo movements, particularly during the last week of the month,” said Craig H. Middlebrook, Deputy Administrator, U.S. Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.” These next few months are typically the busiest of the Seaway’s navigation season. “The harvest is in, U.S. export grain is moving through our Great Lakes ports and the Seaway,” said Middlebrook. “As global demand increases, we anticipate this upward trend in outbound grain shipments to continue through the end of the year.”

PHOTO: The Eisenhower Lock, along the St. Lawrence River in Massena, New York is operated by the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

To learn more about Great Lakes Seaway Shipping, watch the American Anchor video series.

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2021 Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway Key Performance Indicators**
2020* 2021* Change (+/-)
Total Transits 2,937 2,976 +1.33%
Total Cargo 27,956,000 mt 28,494,000 mt +1.92%
*Combined U.S. and Canadian traffic

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


2021 Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway Key Commodity Trackers***
2020* 2021* Change (+/-)**
Iron Ore 4,971,000 5,966,000 20.04%
Iron & Steel 928,000 1,871,000 101.55%


Cement & Clinkers 1,503,000 1,592,000 5.94%
Coke 836,000 1,202,000 43.75%
Gypsum 626,000 753,000 20.26%
Steel Slabs 345,000 587,000 70.05%
Potash 174,000 306,000 76.32%
Stone 206,000 297,000 44.37%
Ores & Concentrates 146,000 182,000 24.85%
*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 October 31. Shipments for 2021 from March 22 to October 31.

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Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority

Through October 2021, tonnage surpassed 9 million tons for the Port of Toledo, an increase of over 25%. Domestic tonnage is upover 48% and trade with Canada has increased by 14%. Iron ore, coal, general cargo, and dry bulk commodities are all tracking ahead of last year. “We have nearly surpassed our 2020 tonnage total and we’re only in October,” said Joseph Cappel, VP, Business Development, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

PHOTO: Polsteam GARDNO at Midwest Terminals in Toledo, Ohio.

General cargo shipments for the seaway continue to increase, showing a 65 percent increase year-over-year due to top performing ports for iron ore and steel slabs, such as Toledo. Other traditional “steel” American Great Lakes ports include Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago and Burns Harbor. In total, these ports saw 10 vessel port calls with diverse steel products from approximately 10 countries.

For Port of Toledo, most of the increase is attributed to additional domestic iron ore shipments associated with the Cleveland Cliffs direct reduction plant, however Toledo is also experiencing increases in coal, dry bulk, and general cargo. Commodities such as salt, aluminum, and other bulk material have been strong this year.

“We are always working on accelerating the supply chain for these cargos through our terminals. To that end, we have acquired and started using our new Liebherr 550 mobile harbor crane in combination with our two Liebherr 280 cranes for material handling at Midwest Terminals.” The new Liebherr 550 crane has lift capacity of 154 metric tons and can be utilized for project cargo, break bulk and bulk commodities. The new crane has already increased efficiency and productivity.

PHOTO: The new Liebherr 550 Mobile Harbor Crane in operation at the Port of Toledo.

Port of Duluth-Superior

Overall, iron ore continues to be a standout export commodity for seaway traffic, with a 20 percent increase year-over-year. Minnesota ports saw 11 Lakers export iron ore to the Port of Quebec, for trans-shipment to high-demand countries.

Total tonnage for the Port of Duluth-Superior is tracking 2.5 percent ahead of the five-season average and 33 percent better than the COVID-slowed 2020 pace. Iron ore remained a hot commodity, with more than 2 million short tons leaving the port in October. That pushed Duluth-Superior’s season total to 16.4 million short tons, which exceeded the five-season average by 16 percent.

“The flexibility we offer shippers to switch between modes of transport to and from our multimodal general cargo terminal has been an advantage for them in navigating the global supply chain challenges of 2021,” said Deb DeLuca, Executive Director, Duluth Seaway Port Authority. “So far, it’s truly been a season that emphasizes the importance of supply chain reliability and versatility, and we deliver on those in Duluth-Superior.”

Photo: Fednav FEDERAL DART in Duluth, Minnesota.

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The Soo Locks

The Port of Toledo and its Cleveland Cliffs direct reduction plant as well as the Port of Duluth-Superior are empowered not only

by the Seaway, but the Soo Locks. The Soo Locks serve as America’s connection to the global economy, allowing vessels on the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway system to freely move cargos from the upper Great Lakes to the lower lakes. Each vessel that passes through the Locks efficiently hauls its cargos like iron ore for steel and agricultural products for consumption to support American industries and citizen’s everyday life.

Photo: Soo Locks in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan.

At a recent news conference hosted by the Great Lakes Seaway Partnership at the National Museum of the Great Lakes, the construction of a new lock at the Soo was celebrated and commemorated. Several industry leaders from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Carriers Association, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, Port of Monroe, and Interlake Maritime Services were in attendance to acknowledge this important piece of infrastructure for the economy. To learn more about the Soo Locks, visit


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 – larger than that of Japan, Germany, Brazil, or the United Kingdom. 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 foundation of 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 US 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, policy makers, community groups, allied industries, environmental stakeholders, and the general public to highlight the positive attributes of marine transportation.