Trading on “Highway H2O”

Every year in April, the Great Lakes of North America open up for seaborne trading as the winter ice melts. Maersk Tankers operates in the Great Lakes, bringing in products to support the region’s local industries and energy demands. 

The bi-national Great Lakes region is home to more than 100 million people and is of high economic, industrial and agricultural significance. To enable seaborne transportation to, from, and within the region, the 3,700 km-long St. Lawrence Seaway –  also known as “Highway H2O” – runs between Canada and the United States and connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes, supporting local industries, farmers and refineries.

Due to the prevalence of mining, manufacturing and agricultural industries in the region, the dominant commodities that are shipped in the Great Lakes are dry cargoes such as iron ore, coal and grain. Yet, the prominent agricultural industry requires fertilisers, which Maersk Tankers is transporting to the Great Lakes region in the form of Urea Ammonium Nitrate (UAN), a liquid fertiliser which is sprayed on the fields. Equally important, Maersk Tankers transports clean petroleum products into the region, as for instance raw gasoline, to meet local energy demands.

When leaving the Great Lakes, Maersk Tankers in turn transports some of the region’s exports, for example blends that go into gasoil, as well as ethanol and gasoline – discharging outside the seaway locks, the US Atlantic coast, the US Gulf, or Europe.

The Great Lakes region is a good example of how a vessel operator like Maersk Tankers can contribute to global trade. By bringing in liquid fertilisers and clean petroleum products we help to meet the demand in the region, while at the same time supporting the region’s growth by transporting some of their exports out of the lakes.

Lars Sprogoee Bentzen, Head of Intermediate Chartering in Maersk Tankers

BRO AGNES_Great Lakes_lighter
Maersk Tankers' Intermediate vessel Bro Agnes passing through Welland Canal, picture by David Brown

Requirements for trading in the Great Lakes

Maersk Tankers is one of the few product tanker companies operating in the Great Lakes. The region has specific restrictions, not only on the legal side, but also as far as requirements for ships are concerned. Most tanker vessels operating in the Great Lakes are specifically designed to sail there - only a handful of vessels operate in both the Great Lakes and other regions. 

When we start trading in the lakes end of March, there is still a lot of ice. Only certain ice class vessels are able to operate in the lakes at that time. We currently have around 10 Intermediate vessels that can operate in the lakes, which gives us a solid position in the market.

Pär Bökman, Intermediate Charterer in Maersk Tankers

The foundation for trading in the Great Lakes is built on collaboration with local brokers and agents. Only with their help, Maersk Tankers has been able to build up the profound knowledge of local legislations and the specifications of the seaway system that is required for trading in the region.

Typically, at the end of December, the Great Lakes seaway closes again as the growing ice complicates operating in the area as winter progresses.

By trading in the Great Lakes, Maersk Tankers operates in a region distinct in nature and requirements, transporting important products into the industrial heartland of North America. The seaborne transportation of products to and from the region allows vessel companies in the area to contribute to local industries and to facilitate the global trade that makes the region grow.