The cost of shipping large items may be more affordable than ever before, thanks to plummeting oil and gas prices across the world, but there’s another major factor that is stalling the shipping industry in the U.S.: weather.
According to recent reports, the Great Lakes — which provide affordable water transportation options for countless shipping and travel services — experienced such freezing temperatures during the winter of 2013-2014, that the U.S. shipping industry was forced into a standstill. Overall, experts note, the industry experienced over $705 million worth of economic losses, as well as 4,000 individual jobs lost, due to the frozen lakes.
This season, the Lake Carriers’ Association (LCA) is working closely with the U.S. Coast Guard to avoid such trouble during the current 2014-2015 winter season.
Although important industries, like steel and power generation, are capable of sending and receiving cargo year round, being able to transport goods across the frozen lakes is another issue entirely, and one that appears to be largely out of the hands of individual private industries.
Although the U.S. Coast Guard has previously supplied nine icebreaking vessels for the Great Lakes region (including one heavy-duty icebreaker), in addition to two vessels supplied by the Canadian government for the Lakes, the Cleveland-based LCA notes that three more icebreaking machines are necessary to keep the shipping industry working at full capacity — and last year’s losses are proof of this.
For a region that spans across eight states, provides approximately 130,000 jobs for American workers, and can save billions of dollars compared to other transport methods, many shipping companies feel that the government hasn’t fully recognized the necessity of icebreaking vessels in the Great Lakes.
The LCA, in particular, has recently begun advocating for the construction of a second heavy-duty icebreaker, but it’s still unknown if Congress will approve the construction, largely due to financial implications.
“Dependable Auto Shippers also has challenges due to weather events including ice, high winds and heavy precipitation, however, our experienced fleet combined with state of the art equipment allow us to minimize delays and costs to our customers,” says Matt Wallis, Logistics Manager, Dependable Auto Shippers.
Until then, perhaps the best that LCA and Great Lakes shipping companies can hope for is a mild winter — and compared to last year’s weather, any temperatures allowing more than 8% of the Lakes to stay in liquid form will be welcome.