Tough time for Great Lakes shipping

CLEVELAND – Massive, thick ice formations on the Great Lakes limited iron ore shipments in March to 1.1 million tons, according to the Lake Carriers’ Association based in Cleveland. This is a decrease of 43 percent compared to a year ago. Shipments from U.S. Great Lakes ports fell even more – 52 percent.

Some of the ore that was loaded in March did not reach its intended destination until well into April. Two vessels that departed Duluth/Superior at the western end of Lake Superior on March 26 did not arrive in Gary, Ind., until April 7. Under normal circumstances, the 797-mile voyage takes about 62 hours.

An iron ore cargo loaded in Escanaba on March 5 destined for Cleveland, Ohio, a voyage of 545 miles, was in transit for 12 days rather than the normal 50 hours.

Through March, the Lakes ore trade stands at 3.5 million tons, a decrease of 33 percent. The decrease would be more, but in an effort to maintain steel production, 370,000 tons of iron ore moved in February, usually a month with no shipments. The ice on the lakes was not the only challenge faced. The sub-zero temperatures nearly paralyzed the docks and one cargo took more than three days to load. The vessel should have been full in about six hours.

Lake Carriers’ Association represents 17 American companies that operate 57 U.S.-flag vessels on the Great Lakes.

Recently the shipping season in Marquette’s Upper Harbor also finally begun, thanks to Operation Taconite and two U.S. Coast Guard ice-breakers.

The Morro Bay and Katmai Bay broke the ice last weekend at the Lake Superior and Ishpeming Railroad Ore Dock, guiding the Kaye E. Barker and Mesabi Miner into port.

Operation Taconite is an ice-breaking operation responsible for helping to ensure a successful transport of cargo in areas with a harsh winter climate.

The thick and widespread Lake Superior ice that has been the result of an extremely cold winter had prevented boats from accessing the Marquette harbor. That delayed coal and outbound iron ore shipments, with We Energies having to purchase reserve coal from the Marquette Board of Light and Power.

With coal now starting to arrive at the dock via freighter, truck deliveries from the Shiras Steam Plant to the Presque Isle Power Plant were suspended, although future deliveries will depend on the still-abnormal Lake Superior shipping situation.

On the iron-ore side of things, LS & I Railroad Ore Dock crews began loading pellets onto the Kaye E. Barker last week.