The outlook has improved significantly on the St. Lawrence Seaway system of locks and channels that allows ocean carriers to penetrate deep into the industrial heartland of Canada and the United States. Last year was the worst in many years, with total shipments falling by 3.4% to 35 million metric tons. But there was evidence of recovery in the last few months of 2016.

Iron ore and grain exports continued to spark the recent resurgence in the first half of the 2017 shipping season on the North American waterway, with cargo volume up 18% over 2016. According to Canada’s St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, total cargo from March 20 to July 31 reached 16 million metric tons – 2.5 million metric tons more compared to the same period in 2016.

The St. Lawrence Seaway allows vessels to reach the industrial heartland of North America.
The St. Lawrence Seaway allows vessels to reach the industrial heartland of North America.

“Cargo shipments first started to improve last autumn and we’re very pleased to see that positive momentum continue throughout the first half of 2017,” said Terence Bowles, President and CEO of The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation. “The main drivers have been U.S. iron ore and Canadian grain exports along with domestic demand for steel, salt, and construction materials. Looking ahead, we await the results of the new grain harvest as this will influence shipments later this year”. Year-to-date iron ore shipments totaled 3.7 million metric tons, up 68% over 2016 levels. Canadian domestic carriers are loading U.S. iron ore pellets at Minnesota ports/docks to ship via the Seaway to the Port of Quebec, where it is then transferred to larger ocean-going vessels for onward transport to Japan and China.

Seaway salt shipments from Ontario and Quebec mines to cities and towns throughout the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region totaled 1.4 million metric tons, up 42% over the same period last year.

Canadian grain totaled 3.1 million metric tons, up 9%, with vessels shipping a large carry over of Prairie and Ontario grain products from last fall’s harvest to overseas markets. The Port of Thunder Bay, the primary Great Lakes gateway for Prairie grain, has shipped 350,000 metric tons more grain than usual as of July 31.

At the Port of Hamilton, largest Canadian port on the Great Lakes, commodities like salt, grain and fertilizer were all showing good results at the mid-point of the current shipping season.