Economic conditions and severe weather conditions have formed the perfect storm to slow some traditional trade at U.S. ports along the St. Lawrence Seaway System.
The St. Lawrence Seaway reported that year-to-date total cargo shipments for the period March 22 to July 31 was 17.1 million metric tons, virtually flat over the same period in 2011. While July is usually a slow month on the System, not all the news was negative. “The Great Lakes Seaway system is an attractive market for breakbulk cargoes, and offers one of the most promising areas for growth,” said Craig H. Middlebrook, Acting Administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.
“The Midwest is home to some of the world’s largest manufacturers of heavy equipment, which is in increasing demand around the globe. As the North American automobile industry continues its rebound, the demand for imported steel products is also rising. Moreover, the continued development of varied North American energy resources is translating into increased demand for waterborne imports of the oversized equipment needed to support this development.”
The Port of Duluth is taking full advantage of this increase this shipping season.
“The Port Authority’s breakbulk terminal in the Port of Duluth-Superior has seen a surge in project cargoes this summer,” notes Adolph Ojard, executive director. “We’ve handled nearly a dozen shipments of wind turbine components (nacelles, hubs and blades), plus multiple shiploads of domestically manufactured blades being exported to Brazil. The surge, while partly attributable to the rush to finish wind projects before production tax credits expire, has also brought to Duluth a variety of other breakbulk cargoes – including huge steam/gas turbines and generators, mining machinery, and other heavy-lift equipment for projects across the Midwest and Canada.
“This uptick in project cargoes serves as a noteworthy reminder of the important role the Seaway plays in sustaining the economic vitality of our port and region. Anchoring the western tip of this inland waterway enables us to serve customers expediently here in the heartland of North America and around the world,” added Ojard. The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor has handled significant increases in YTD shipments of coke (+118%), fertilizer (+94%), minerals (+54%), steel (+29%) and grain (+26%).
“Overall shipments have remained relatively steady in 2012 coming off last year’s highest annual volume in recent history,” said Anthony Kuk, port director for the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor. “Our biggest increases have been driven by growth in local steel manufacturing, but we also saw continued shipments of mega project cargoes in July, and the August shipping schedule looks busy as well.”
Recent project cargo shipments included wind turbines and the world’s largest crawler. The first of its kind, the crane weighs 1.65 million pounds, has a lifting capacity of 3,000 tons and stands 473 feet tall with its boom fully extended. Built by Liebherr-Werk Ehingen GmbH in Ehingen, Germany, it was shipped in 190 pieces from Westdorpe, Netherlands on the MV Elandsgracht. The project cargo was unloaded by the Port’s terminal operator, Federal Marine Terminals, a subsidiary of Fednav Ltd. The crane is being transported from the port to Whiting, Indiana by truck over the next several weeks for use in a major expansion of the BP Whiting Refinery.
Iron ore and coal used in the steel and construction industries were the positive cargoes in terms of tonnage numbers along the St. Lawrence Seaway System for the month of July. Iron ore shipments through the Seaway rose 30 percent to 1.4 million metric tons in July. Year-to-date figures for iron ore were up 28 percent to 5.2 million metric tons. Coal shipments for power generation and steel production rose to 2.2 million metric tons – a 28 percent hike over 2011.
Cement shipments also posted a 25 percent increase in July due to ongoing construction work throughout the Great Lakes states. Grain shipments were down for the third straight month due to extreme drought conditions in the U.S. July was the hottest month on record, beating the worst month of the Dust Bowl era in 1936. Small U.S. crops can carry a global wallop since the United States is the world’s largest farm exporter. It grows 40 percent of the corn and soybeans as well as a fifth of the wheat sold on the world market.