The Great Lakes have long been an important shipping route for companies that transport goods by cargo freighters. However, the waterways carried fewer shipments in 2012 - cargo transported via the Great Lakes was down more than 4 percent last year. With the season now over, some shipping officials are wondering how 2013's numbers will compare to those seen in 2012.
Reasons for the decline
There are multiple factors speculated to be behind the decline in cargo carried along the lakes. Falling water levels are thought to be one problem, as this makes it more difficult for larger carriers to navigate and makes it impossible for them to carry full loads.This means companies that choose to have their goods transported by water sometimes need to pay for additional shipments if their cargo cannot all be loaded onto one ship and factor the extra shipping time into their processes. However, removing the sediment that causes these low levels is up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, an agency that hasn't yet resolved the problem.
Limestone was reported to be a reason for the drop, as shipments of the product have slowed over the past few years. With the construction industry still struggling to recover, few are in need of limestone. As markets pick up and the construction industry gains steam, this trend has the potential to reverse.
However, one of the largest reasons for the decline is believed to be the decrease in coal shipments. As Canadian plants begin to phase coal out of their power industry, shipments of the natural resource have dropped sharply. Coal cargo plummeted 25 percent lower than the five-year average in 2012, and could remain low as demand shrinks.
Other modes of transport
As shipping products and raw materials via the Great Lakes becomes more difficult and has the potential to become more expensive, some companies may choose to alter their logistical strategies to ensure their prices remain competitive and they are able to get shipments to designated ports in a timely fashion. These supply chain changes may include relying more heavily on planes and trucks rather than cargo freighters. However, some businesses may be unable to disentangle themselves from Great Lakes shipping and may have to struggle in the months ahead to ensure their operations aren't hindered by low water levels.