Esky leads in iron ore shipping

ESCANABA – Heavy ice formations on the Great Lakes continued to slash iron ore shipments in April.

Shipments totaled only 2.7 million tons, a decrease of 52 percent compared to a year ago, according to a press release from the Cleveland, Ohio-based Lake Carriers’ Association, which represents operators of U.S.-flag vessels on the Great Lakes.

Loadings slumped even more – 53.3 percent – when compared to the month’s long-term average.

Escanaba posted the highest iron ore shipment numbers of the nine U.S. Great Lakes ports included in the Lake Carriers’ Association’s data – 772,625 tons for the month of April, much higher than the April 2013 total of 89,340 tons. This amount is also higher than Escanaba’s five-year average for the month of April – 163,907 tons.

However, Lake Superior’s ice was so challenging in the month of April that the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards had to convoy freighters the entire month. It was not until May 2 that the U.S. Coast Guard allowed vessels to proceed across Lake Superior unescorted.

The ice field off Marquette barred lakers from loading at the port until April 13.

Another ice-related factor in the decrease was the inability of downbound freighters to transit the Rock Cut, a stretch of the St. Marys River just below the Soo Locks. The Rock Cut was clogged with ice, so vessels had to use the upbound track and this reduced their loaded draft.

As a result, even the largest iron ore cargo loaded on Lake Superior in April was less than 60,000 tons. If the largest vessels had been able to transit the Rock Cut, loads would have been 65,000 tons or more.

Through April, the Lakes’ iron ore trade stands at 6.2 million tons, a decrease of nearly 43 percent compared to both a year ago and the long-term average for the January-April timeframe.

Lake Carriers’ Association represents 17 American companies that operate 57 U.S.-flag vessels on the Great Lakes and carry the raw materials that drive the nation’s to proceed across Lake Superior unescorted.