Great Lakes
The challenges and necessities of the pandemic are reflected in port tonnage totals for the start of the season. Chamber of Marine Commerce photo

Great Lakes - High water and pandemic challenge Great Lakes-Seaway shipping

Just as the 2020 shipping season on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway was getting underway, the Covid-19 pandemic ramped up in North America. The challenges and necessities of the coronavirus pandemic are reflected in port tonnage totals for the start of the season.

“The start of the shipping season on part of the St. Lawrence Seaway was delayed for 12 days due to high-water levels on Lake Ontario,” Bruce Burrows, president and CEO of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, said in a prepared statement. “Once it was deemed safe for shipments to begin, the pandemic hit, fluctuating typical cargo needs. There has been strong demand for American wheat for worldwide bread and pasta production, but iron ore shipments slowed down in April as domestic steel production for the automotive sector declined during factory shutdowns. In our industry, it can take months before the full impacts of an economic downturn take effect, so we will be watching closely as the situation evolves over the coming weeks.”

The Port of Duluth-Superior got off to a promising start with the first ever March grain shipment. Total grain shipments through April, wheat heading mostly to Italy, topped the five-year average by 69% and represented a more than threefold increase season-over-season. Iron ore shipments were up 64% in March compared to 2019 but slowed to a 5% increase in April due to the pandemic and decreased demand from auto manufacturers. General cargo including dry bulk tonnage in April was 54% ahead of last season’s pace, led by limestone, salt and cement totals.

“Ports, seafarers and shipping companies throughout the Great Lakes are essential links in the supply chain, doing all they can to ensure the uninterrupted flow of cargo to regional and world markets,” said Jayson Hron, director of communications and marketing at the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

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