Heavy ice formations on the Great Lakes continued to slash iron ore shipments in April. Shipments totaled only 2.7 million tons, a decrease of 52 percent compared to a year ago. Loadings slumped even more – 53.3 percent – when compared to the month’s long-term average.
Lake Superior’s ice was so challenging that the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards had to convoy freighters the entire month. In fact, it was not until May 2 that the U.S. Coast Guard allowed vessels to proceed across Lake Superior unescorted.
The ice field off Marquette, Michigan, barred lakers from loading at the port until April 13.
Another ice-related factor in the decrease was the inability of downbound freighters to transit the Rock Cut, a stretch of the St. Marys River just below the Soo Locks. The Rock Cut was clogged with ice, so vessels had to use the upbound track and this reduced their loaded draft. As a result, even the largest iron ore cargo loaded on Lake Superior in April was less than 60,000 tons. If the largest vessels had been able to transit the Rock Cut, loads would have been 65,000 tons or more.
Through April, the Lakes iron ore trade stands at 6.2 million tons, a decrease of nearly 43 percent compared to both a year ago and the long-term average for the January-April timeframe.