The faltering U.S. economy took its toll on US flag shipping on the Great Lakes last year as a promising navigation season succumbed to a dramatic decline in shipments late in the year. A 40-percent drop in cargo movement in December wiped out earlier gains and produced a 3-percent decrease for the year in U.S.-Flag shipping on the Great Lakes in 2008. The 101 million net tons of dry-bulk cargo transported by U.S.-flag lakers in 2008 represented a 4.5 percent decrease from the domestic Great Lakes fleet's 5-year average. The iron ore trade finished in a virtually the same as a year ago at 47.2 million net tons. As late as November, shipments of iron ore in U.S. hulls were up by 2.2 million net tons. However, the iron ore trade crumbled in December bringing the overall tonnage number down.
At 25 million net tons, coal shipments represent a small decrease from 2007. However, the 18 million net tons of low sulfur coal loaded at Superior Midwest Energy Terminal in Superior, Wisconsin set a new record for the U.S.-Flag Lakes fleet. Limestone loadings finished the year at 23.6 million net tons, a decrease of 9 percent compared to 2007. However, compared to the fleet’s 5-year average for stone, cargos were off more than 14 percent.
The U.S. flag trade was sluggish all year, primarily because of the decline in heavy construction and the housing market. Then, in December, with steel mills banking furnaces, the fluxstone market collapsed too. Of the other dry-bulk commodities carried by the fleet, only salt held even with 2007. Cement, sand, and grain were all down compared to 2007.