Ice deals setback to Great Lakes shipping
Making up for lost time on the Great Lakes is hard to do in the shipping industry. So says Glen Nekvasil, who reported Tuesday that U.S.-flag lakers moved less than 2 million tons of iron ore in April, a 52 percent decrease compared to a year ago.
“It’s not easy in this industry,” said Nekvasil, vice president of the Lake Carriers’ Association. “The vessels are already operating at the most efficient speed. They can go faster, in a storm, to get to safe harbor, but they can’t run at higher speed for great lengths of time.”
The best hope for catching up: good weather from here on out.
“It’s going to be a challenge to meet the needs of commerce,” Nekvasil said. “We hope Mother Nature cooperates. The bottom line is it’s going to be a great challenge to rebuild stockpiles.”
When asked if more vessels could be added to the mix, Nekvasil was hesitant to speculate.
“It is true there are some vessels in layup,” he said. “But as the trade association, I’m really restricted as to what I can say. It’s something to be worked on between the customer and the carrier. The trade association cannot do anything to affect market conditions.”
Heavy ice formations led to the season-long slowdown. Earlier this week, the LCA reported shipments of 2.7 million tons of iron ore, a figure that included Canadian numbers as well. Coal shipments for U.S.-flag
vessels amounted to 630,000 tons in April, down nearly 60 percent from a year ago. Limestone cargos totaled 875,000 tons, a 36 percent decrease. While no stone originates on Lake Superior, some of the lower horsepower vessels that serve stone quarries delayed sailings rather than become beset in ice on the lower lakes.
Rebuilding stockpiles is at the forefront of this summer’s efforts, but Nekvasil said preventative measures are underway for future seasons.
The Coast Guard is bringing its “140s” — 140-foot-long ice-breakers — into Baltimore for modernization.
“These were brutal conditions and it brings up the importance of the need to modernize,” Nekvasil said. “They’re very good ice-breakers, but these are vessels built in 1979-81 and they’ve got a lot of wear and tear on them. It’s critical the program goes forward and we have to make sure that it does.”
The 140s figure to have steel replaced, as well as engines and other components. The Ninth District of the Coast Guard, based in Cleveland, Ohio, is responsible for the ice breakers but did not return an inquiry in time for this story. The first 140 is already headed in for modernization.
“We appreciate what the Coast Guard and the Canadian Coast Guard did in bringing in additional ice-breaking,” Nekvasil said. “We’re fortunate they had the assets they did.”