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Published: Monday, 1/18/2010

Port cargo down for second year

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Cargo traffic through the Port of Toledo declined for a second consecutive year in 2009, with steel and steel-related freight leading the 8.75 percent drop.

Iron ore, the primary ingredient for steel production, fell to less than 2.9 million tons last year, down 39 percent from 2008, according to year-end statistics released by the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. Total cargo tonnage was off by nearly 1 million tons, from nearly 11 million tons in 2008 to about 10 million tons last year.

Only nine oceangoing vessels visited the Toledo docks during the year, the lowest count since 1947, a dozen years before the St. Lawrence Seaway opened.

As recently as 1989, 100 or more so-called salty visits per year were the norm in Toledo, but the last year for that amount was 1994, when 116 salty dockings were logged.

The drop from 38 salties in 2007 to 22 the next year and nine last year was a result of lower steel imports throughout the Great Lakes, said Joe Cappel, the port authority's senior manager of seaport business development.

That also meant fewer ships in the system to handle outbound cargo, such as grain, Mr. Cappel said. But grain rebounded locally from a "dismal" 2008, he said, thanks both to Kraft Foods' full-year operation of a new marine terminal at its flour mill on Front Street in East Toledo and to higher volume at Maumee River elevators.

Mr. Cappel and Seaport Director Warren McCrimmon both were optimistic about a port rebound during 2010.

"Some of our terminals are bullish on the coming season," Mr. McCrimmon said, naming the Kraft facility and Kuhlman Corp., which receives construction materials by water.

Mr. Cappel, meanwhile, said the installation this year of cranes at the port-owned docks should be a boon to business.

"We're going to be out marketing our new equipment this winter to potential shippers," the business development manager said. "We hope that gives us a leg up on the competition."

Last year, general cargo business at the port-owned international cargo docks fell 42.2 percent, mostly because of steel's decline. It was kept from falling further by aluminum traffic attributable to Toledo having gained a listing as a London Metals Exchange delivery point.

Petroleum and general cargo also were down, while coal and dry-bulk freight increased last year.

While much of the drop in iron ore resulted from the end of "trans-shipment" cargo at the port-owned international cargo docks, last year's iron-ore volume also was nearly 1 million ton lower than in 2006, the year before such intermediate-destination shipments began.

Reduced iron-ore shipments last year were reflective of the domestic steel industry's lowered production, especially during the first half of 2009.

A significant portion of the U.S. lake-freighter fleet remained idle well into the year, including several vessels that were parked at Toledo wharves until late summer or early fall.

The trans-shipment cargo involved pelletized iron ore brought to Toledo from Minnesota in 1,000-foot lakers, emptied onto the dock, and reloaded into St. Lawrence Seaway-size ships. It was forwarded to the St. Lawrence River, where the ore was transferred once again into ocean freighters.

The unusual cargo movement was supported by robust demand from Chinese steelmakers for imported ore during a massive construction boom in that country during 2007 and 2008.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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