The Great Lakes’ iconic freighters remained common sights on the waters – that much didn’t change during pandemic. But, like many industries, shipping was hit hard by COVID-19. That feels especially salient when shipping is such an integral piece of the Great Lakes economy.
As of September 2020, iron ore cargoes were “down 27% from last year at this time,” James Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers’ Association and representative of Ohio on the Great Lakes Commission, said in an interview with Great Lakes Now.
“We have over 10 lakers that are not sailing right now that sailed last year and would be sailing if it wasn’t for the lack of demand,” he said.
Watch Great Lakes Now‘s segment on the state of shipping:
The Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie sees 90% of the United States’ iron ore pass through it. Total annual tonnage on the Great Lakes was down 31% as of August 2020 and never fully recovered by year’s end.
Meanwhile, the shipping industry has its eyes on infrastructure improvements to turn things around.
A new lock is being added at Sault Ste. Marie, with $241 million allocated for the project already.
“It remains to pace to be built efficiently, which is in a five- to seven-year timeframe,” Weakley said.
Eric Peace, Lake Carriers’ Association director of operations and communications, also pointed to the hopes for a new ice breaker to operate on the Great Lakes.
“There’s been ice seasons, in particular 2013, 2014, and most recently 2019—where it’s had a huge impact on the shipping industry, the ports, the facilities, to make sure we can continue to move shipping here on the Great Lakes during the winter seasons,” Pease said.
The need for a new ice breaker was even acknowledged in the 2020 Coast Guard Reauthorization legislation.
“In the Great Lakes, inadequate icebreaking capacity is costing us thousands of American jobs and millions in U.S. revenue,” Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin said in a press release on the legislation.
Here is other Great Lakes Now work on the shipping industry:
Featured image: Photo from Great Lakes Now Episode 2021