Vessels bring the world to our doorstep


“Port of Toledo, your link to world markets.”

The sign painted on a grain elevator next to the I-75 DiSalle Bridge didn’t lie, but the international commerce that Maumee River freighters carry represents a part of Toledo that may be out-of-sight, out-of-mind for many who don’t glance away from the car ahead while crossing the river or get stopped for a vessel at a drawbridge.

Containerized freight dominates the landscape at coastal ports like New York and Los Angeles, but in Toledo bulk cargoes are king. Think coal, iron ore, and grain in particular, although cement, stone, fertilizers, and metals among others also play big roles.

And from time to time the local port lands what’s known as “project cargo.” That has included sections for natural-gas pipelines, components for wind turbines, and heavy machinery for new factories like the Cleveland-Cliffs iron plant nearing completion on Front Street.

What’s rare to find on any of the ships passing downtown Toledo these days is an American flag on the transom. There’s still a U.S. fleet on the Great Lakes, but in Toledo it primarily plies the coal and ore trades, and those cargoes’ docks were moved long ago to the Maumee River’s mouth. The new iron plant will bring American lakers somewhat farther upriver, but they still won’t go through the Craig Memorial or Martin Luther King, Jr. bridges.

Cement ships that occasionally deliver to the Lafarge terminal on Water Street next door to Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority headquarters and just downstream from the King bridge are a notable exception. Their numbers include the oldest vessel still trading on the Great Lakes: the steamship Alpena, built during World War II, is a regular Toledo visitor delivering cement quarried in northern Michigan.

You also might see an American ship delivering stone to the Kuhlman dock nestled among the grain elevators, but for the most part the freighters taking on corn, soybeans, or wheat bound for distant lands fly the flags of Canada or overseas nations.

United States law requires ships hauling cargo from one U.S. port to another to be built, registered, and crewed domestically. Importers and exporters favor cheaper vessels flying foreign flags, but the presence on the Maumee of ships with homeports in Europe or Africa also serves to point up the international nature of their business.


SOURCE: The Blade