March 2, 2009

Great Lakes shippers predict a slow year

Veterans of the Great Lakes shipping industry predict 2009 will be a slow season once the ice melts and the big barges get under way.

"It's probably going to be kind of rough, said Ned Swartzinski, a wheelsman and maintenance worker at Interlake Steamship Co., The Detroit News reported Monday.

Some of our vessels won't be coming out as early as they normally do, said Interlake President Mark Barker.

He predicted one of his ships might not sail this year, if demand doesn't increase.

Great Lakes shipping has been hampered by shallow waters that reduce some ship's capacity to carry a full load. An aging, undersized Coast Guard fleet is also having difficulty keeping waters open in the winter months, the News reported.

But, the biggest blow is the economy.

Shipping is a service industry, said Glen Nekvasil, vice president with the Lake Carriers' Association. We don't create demand, we meet demand. When steel mills need us to move ore pellets, we move ore pellets. But when they don't ... " he said.

A recently released U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study said 236,000 jobs in the Great Lakes region rely on lake shipping.