National Maritime Day Celebrates the Importance of Ships in Upper Michigan

MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) — Sunday is National Maritime Day.

It’s time to reflect on its importance in Upper Michigan. Lake Carriers’ Association Vice President Eric Peace said the industry could not function without everyone who works on the ships that transport goods across the Great Lakes.

“The men and women who operate these vessels don’t get much credit, but they should,” Peace said. “Everything they do contributes to everything we have.”

Peace said the $2.3 trillion economic stimulus package known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress in 2021 would not be possible without much of the material is transported by freighters across the Great Lakes. Peace added that ongoing infrastructure developments in the United States depend on shipments from the Great Lakes region.

“None of this happens without the movement of raw materials to get things built,” Peace said. “This includes concrete, cement, iron ore, etc. All of these things are going to depend on American shipping here on the Great Lakes.

Employees who work on these freighters are known as Merchant Marines. They are largely responsible for transporting materials like iron ore across the Great Lakes. Peace said the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 requires all ships in US ports to be made in the United States, which Peace says further contributes to our economy.

“All of the ships we represent are American-flagged, American-manned, and American-owned,” Peace said. “Nothing in this sector of the supply chain depends on a foreign country to move this cargo.”

Peace said iron ore shipped across the Great Lakes is used to create steel, which Marquette Maritime Museum director Hillary Billman added as an essential metal.

“That car you’re driving has so many steel components,” Billman said. “There are so many things that use steel, including cell phones. Almost everything depends on iron ore.

Marquette has relied heavily on the mining and transportation of iron ore across the Great Lakes since 1849.

“The people of Marquette at the time had to find a place to ship that iron ore, which is when the town of Marquette became a port,” Billman said. “It has long been one of the most important ports on Lake Superior.

Although Duluth, Minn., has the largest port by tonnage on Lake Superior, Peace said the shipping industry is still one of the Upper Peninsula’s biggest businesses.

“We ship approximately 6.5 million tonnes of iron ore from Marquette annually that goes to southern Great Lakes ports,” Peace said. “There are approximately 165,000 jobs that depend on the maritime industry here in the Great Lakes region.”

This material is shipped entirely from the Upper Harbor ore wharf.

Besides the transport of iron ore, the maritime industry performs other important tasks. Peace said the industry is responsible for commercial fishing on Lake Superior and added that the shipping industry has helped build some of the largest cities in the Midwest.

“Chicago was built by ships from the northern Great Lakes region,” Peace said. “Ships picked up lumber and brought it to Chicago to build the city. Many towns south of UP were built with lumber sourced from northern Michigan.

National Maritime Day isn’t just about ships, either. Billman said she encourages anyone who walks the shores of Lake Superior to pick up litter to help keep the lake clean and beautiful for everyone to enjoy.

Billman added that the Marquette Maritime Museum will be offering 10% off its gift shop on Sunday in recognition of National Maritime Day.

In addition to National Maritime Day, Congress on Wednesday awarded merchant marines who served in World War II the Congressional Gold Medal.

“More than 250,000 merchant seamen served in World War II,” Peace said. “They lost over 6,700 people on 800 ships. Getting goods across the North Atlantic was a very dangerous mission for them, and they were never officially recognized until this week.

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