Great Lakes shipping on the rise, study finds

by Emily Atkins

In a presentation to the Great Lakes Economic Forum in Chicago, the Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority (HOPA Ports) highlighted the increasing viability of short sea shipping to move goods between some of the Great Lakes region’s biggest cities.

Preliminary research conducted by Fluid Intelligence, a data analysis partnership of HOPA Ports and the McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics, is beginning to uncover candidate routes and commodities where short-sea shipping can supplement long-distance and cross-border truck routes.

Short sea shipping refers to city-to-city shipments using the Great Lakes as a marine-highway alternative to road-based transportation. The marine option has a number of advantages, including a significantly lower carbon footprint, along with the ability to bypass congested highways.

Replace truck trips

Fluid Intelligence’s preliminary results show that half a million tonnes of goods are currently making trips longer than 100 kilometres every week between key origins and destinations in Southern Ontario and the U.S. Midwest, representing approximately 2.5 million heavy truck trips per year. Short sea shipping could accommodate some of that traffic on a greener, less congested water route.

“Short sea shipping on the Great Lakes is one of those ideas that’s been simmering for a long time, but recently, the stars are starting to align,” explained Larissa Fenn, HOPA’s director of public affairs.

“Population growth and highway congestion, driver shortages and fuel costs are all part of the equation making marine a more appealing alternative to road transportation. And of course, organizations are looking to lessen the carbon footprint of their supply chain. Short sea shipping helps tackle all of those problems.”

CO2 reductions

One marine vessel can carry the same amount of cargo as 963 transport trucks, and in moving the same amount of cargo, trucks emit 558 percent more CO2  per tonne/km.

The forthcoming paper, Foundational Study on Cross-Border Short Sea Shipping Opportunities, will provide indications of the commodities that present the greatest opportunities.

Primary plastics, newsprint and other types of paper, metal products and tires are just a few of the commodities occupying tens of thousands of trucks on the region’s highways each week.

The Great Lakes Economic Forum presented an opportunity for HOPA Ports to engage Great Lakes leaders about the potentially expanding role for short sea shipping. “Our intention is to generate renewed interest and discussion about an idea whose time has come,” said Fenn.

The final Fluid Intelligence report is expected to be released this fall.

The Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority offers port and marine assets in Hamilton, Oshawa and Niagara with more than 1,000 acres and more than 140 tenant companies.