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Seaway 2011 shipping season off to a strong start

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The St. Lawrence Seaway has reported a strong start to the 2011 seawayshipping season. Initial indicators show signs of a continued rebound over last season with significant increases in grain, steel slabs, and general cargo during the first two months of activity. Year-to-date total cargo shipments for the period March 22 to May 31 were 7.6 million metric tons, up 4 percent over the same period in 2010. Total grain shipments increased by 31 percent to 1.8 million metric tons, while coal increased by 14 percent to 850,000 metric tons.

Coke shipments were up 70 percent to 456,000 metric tons and steel slab rose 102 percent over the same time last year. However, iron ore shipments were down 39 percent to 1.6 million tons.

Grain exports were the story in the United States with an increase of 126 percent over the same period last year, but whether that trend will continue is unknown. “This first shipment of the 2011 season represents about 25,000 acres of wheat produced by farmers in North Dakota,” said Adolph Ojard, Duluth Seaway Port Authority executive director.

Mr. Ojard also noted that the next few months will be critical in world wheat markets and on the Great Lakes with regard to grain shipments. “There’s no way to accurately forecast tonnages this far ahead because of fluctuations in currency values, anticipated worldwide harvests and the availability of backhaul cargo,” he said.

“While our early grain totals were up over 80 percent from the same time last year, the full scene won’t unfold until grain harvests are assessed this summer in Europe, Australia, and North and South America,” he commented. “The lifting of the Russian ban on wheat shipments will also impact international shipments. We are definitely going to have to ‘wait and see’ if this robust start continues well into the 2011 season.”

General cargo shipments showed a 177 percent uptick in early season activity as international vessels delivered wind turbine components to the Port of Cleveland and the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor.

In April a shipment of wind turbine blades – each 164 feet long and weighing more than 24,000 pounds – traveled by ship from Germany through the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Port of Cleveland. Destined to generate energy at Lincoln Electric’s headquarters in a Cleveland suburb, the wind turbine will be one of the largest in Ohio and symbolizes Greater Cleveland’s commitment to wind energy as well as the Port’s international connections and economic benefit to the local community. “Without the St. Lawrence Seaway system connecting the Great Lakes to the global economy this project cargo couldn’t have been transported to Cleveland as efficiently and cost effectively – or with a lower carbon footprint,” said Will Friedman, the Port’s President and CEO. “This delivery shows once again that we have the workers, infrastructure and deep-water capabilities to safely and efficiently handle heavy lifts coming from overseas.”

“Last year, we had a record 15 shipments of wind cargoes at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor, including our first exports of U.S.-made turbines being moved from Iowa to New Brunswick,” said Rich Cooper, CEO for the Ports of Indiana. “That momentum has continued in 2011, as we’ve had three ships from Denmark carrying some of the largest turbine blades in North America. The Seaway provides a perfect connection for European manufacturers to ship large components right to the doorstep of the rapidly growing wind markets here in the Midwest and Great Plains. The recent increase in wind shipments through the Seaway has spurred more investments by ports into specialized handling equipment and facilities, which further enhances the value of this unique shipping connection.”

June 14, 2011

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