St. Lawrence Seaway Posts its Best Year in a Decade

File image courtesy Great Lakes Seaway Partnership

Published Jan 17, 2019 5:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

The St. Lawrence Seaway, the marine highway connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, has posted its best year for cargo shipments since 2007, according to the Great Lakes Seaway Partnership. 

With total cargo shipments of 41 million tonnes during the 2018 navigation season, traffic rose seven percent year-over-year. Total vessel transits were up nearly six percent.

“Total tonnage on the St. Lawrence Seaway exceeded the 5-, 10-, and 15-year averages, making 2018 an exceptionally strong shipping season, the best in over a decade,” said Craig H. Middlebrook, deputy administrator of the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. “Overall gains in year-over-year commodity increases were widespread, most notably in U.S. grain export trade. The investments in Seaway infrastructure and technology are achieving greater efficiencies for our customers and enhancing the binational waterway’s global competitiveness.”

Ten top-performing bulk and breakbulk cargoes pushed Seaway traffic well above the five-year average. By tonnage, grain was up 20 percent - accounting for nearly one third of all traffic - and liquid bulk was up 22 percent. Other major commodities like salt, coal and cement also posted large gains. 

The strong performance was driven in part by the trade war between the U.S. and its trading partners in China and Europe, according to insiders. With new EU retaliatory tariffs on American corn and Chinese tariffs on American soybeans, grain shipments out of Canada's inland provinces rose as buyers shifted away from American suppliers. Significant volumes of these Canadian exports departed through the St. Lawrence Seaway. However, trade tensions were not an exclusively positive development for Seaway traffic: iron ore volumes fell on the waterway due to U.S. tariffs on Canadian-made steel. 

“Clearly the trade negotiation environment that we saw in 2018 has been a driver," said Bruce Burrows, president of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, speaking to the Canadian Press.