The American shipping industry has kept itself safe on the Great Lakes, but it has been feeling ill effects of COVID-19 in economic ways.
Shipments of taconite iron ore fell 33.1% in September compared to the same month last year, and 30% off the rolling five-year average, the Lake Carriers Association, based outside Cleveland, said in a news release Thursday.
Shipments of iron ore from U.S. ports on the Great Lakes totaled 3.9 million tons in September compared to 5.8 million tons in the same month in 2019. The year-to-date iron ore trade stands at 28.2 million tons, a decrease of nearly 27% compared to 2019's 38.6 million tons.
A sliver of good news was learned earlier this week, found in an annual "State of the Lakes" report revealing that no American lake workers had fallen ill to COVID-19 in eight months of the pandemic.
"While the COVID-19 pandemic did create shipping challenges, the U.S.-flag fleet continues to persevere and to date no mariners on Lake Carriers’ member vessels have tested positive for COVID-19," Lake Carriers President Jim Weakley said. “Collaborating early and taking decisive action, our members kept our sailors safe and the economy moving."
The Lake Carriers represent 11-member companies and 46 vessels.
The "State of the Lakes" report described the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Coast Guard as being preoccupied with international travelers and vessels, and having "no planning for the domestic maritime ramifications of this pandemic."
"It was left to Lake Carriers and its members to fill the planning and preparedness void which we did with daily operations briefs exchanging information and best practices among, as always, a collaborative fleet," the "State of the Lakes" report said.
The downturn in 2020 comes after a good year in 2019, which beat the five-year tonnage average by 5%.
Before the coronavirus pandemic struck in March, "2020 looked ready to be another robust year for the U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet until the underlying ramifications of COVID-19's hit to the economy was realized," the report said.
Through June 2020, the 17 million tons of iron ore moved on the Great Lakes was 15% below 2019, and 13.4% below the five-year rolling average. Mid-year raw steel production in the U.S. year-to-date stood at 66.1% capacity down from 80.9% at the same spot in 2019. The quarter from July through September only got worse.
Concluded the "State of the Lakes" report: "The U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet is feeling the pinch."