Lake Carriers Association reports that continued high levels of steel imports, coupled with three large vessels idled for repairs and a lengthy closure of the MacArthur Lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, cost U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleets more than 1.1 million tonnes of cargo in August. The fleet moved 9.9 million tonnes of raw materials in August, a decrease of 10.3 per cent compared to the 11 million tonnes hauled a year ago.
The iron ore trade was most affected by steel imports and vessels being out of service. Shipments totaled just 4.3 million tonnes, a decrease of 22 per cent compared to a year ago. It takes on average 1.5 tonnes of iron ore to make a ton of steel in a blast furnace, so with foreign steel corralling more than 30 per cent of the market, a downturn was inevitable. Also, the three large vessels idled for some or all of the month are active in the ore trade and have a combined per-trip capacity of more than 200,000 tonnes. One of the idled vessels returned to service on August 28. The other ships did not sail again until September 19.
Coal shipments were also affected by the temporary loss of carrying capacity. Two of the idled 1,000-footers also regularly work the coal trade. Each can carry more than 60,000 tonnes per trip, so their temporary lay-ups were a factor in the 12- per cent dip in coal loadings.
Limestone was the bright spot in August. Shipments in U.S. bottoms totaled more than 3 million tonnes, an increase of 14 per cent compared to a year ago.
The failure of the MacArthur Lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, on July 29 also impacted the month’s totals. The lock did not reopen until August 17. More than 70 cargoes in U.S.-flag lakers totaling 1.6 million tonnes were delayed more than 150 hours by the closure during August. Vessels are already operating at their most efficient speed, so most of those 150 hours cannot be recouped.
Year-to-date U.S.-flag carriage stands at 52.4 million tonnes, an increase of 6 per cent compared to the same point in 2014, but a decrease of 1.5 per cent compared to the 5-year average for the January-August timeframe.