The 50th anniversary of St Lawrence Seaway has proved to be a nightmare for shipping lines as the global recession forced down cargo volume to a level not seen since 1961.
The chief factors were the troubles in the steel and the automobile industries in the US and Canada.
Only a moderate improvement is anticipated in 2010 as economic recovery takes hold in Canada and the US.
Close to 20% of the Canadian fleet of 70 vessels was laid up for parts of the commercial navigation season, which began in late March and ended the day after
From 40.8.8m tonnes in 2008, final figures for 2009 Seaway traffic are expected to be 31m-32m tonnes.
Hamilton and Duluth superior, Minnesota, respectively the two biggest Canadian and US ports on the Great Leaks, have suffered a more than 30% drop in business.
"It is difficult to determine what 2010 holds," said Bruce Bowie, president of the Canadian Shipowners Association, which represents the domestic Canadian carriers. "One thing for sure, there has been a multiplier effect of the industrial recessions on not only iron ore but on the coal needed for power," Mr Bowie said.
Paul Pathy, executive vice-president of Fednav, the largest ocean-going user of the waterway, said: "It is the worst year of the seaway system in memory for shipping and terminal operations.
"The number of Fednav vessels through the Seaway is down 50% from 2008, which was already down 24% from 2007."