Waterborne Commerce Statistics

Sub-page: Hazardous Material Transport

Buzzards Bay and the Cape Cod Canal are part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, and therefor are important shipping passages for maritime commerce. Millions of tons of cargo are shipped through Buzzards Bay and the Cape Cod Canal annually, and hundreds of thousands of tons of goods are shipped in and out of New Bedford as well.  Table 1 summarizes tonnage of various commodities that passed through the Cape Cod Canal in 2016, broken down by domestic and foreign shippers.  As shown, in that year, 93% of the tonnage was domestic, and 79% of the tonnage was petroleum products like gasoline, kerosene, and fuel oil.

Table 1. Cape Cod Canal cargo tonnage for 2016.

Source: www.navigationdatacenter.us/wcsc/webpub/#/locations

Commodity Domestic Foreign Combined
All Commodities 6,375,257 499,552 6,874,809
Coal & Lignite 43,088 0 43,088
Gasoline 1,601,011 102,711 1,703,722
Kerosene 976,063 0 976,063
Distillate Fuel Oil 1,850,726 134,801 1,985,527
Residual Fuel Oil (heavy) 487,720 14,691 502,411
Lube Oil & Greases 0 15,549 15,549
Naphtha & Solvents 26,826 13,053 39,879
Asphalt, Tar & Pitch 0 34,512 34,512
Petroleum Coke 0 151,282 151,282
Alcohols 1,093,087 0 1,093,087
Sodium Hydroxide 32,627 0 32,627
Iron & Steel Scrap 14,895 0 14,895
Cement & Concrete 245,992 0 245,992
Vehicles & Parts 0 32,933 32,933
Manufac. Prod. NEC 3,222 20 3,242

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center also aggregates this data into eight commodity groups in their annual commerce reports (see their 2016 Waterborne Commerce Statistics report).  For example, gasoline, kerosene, and fuel oil are considered “petroleum and petroleum products”, and “chemicals” include non-petroleum hydrocarbons (alcohols and solvents), chemical salts, fertilizer, and other chemicals. A detailed table defining how commodities are broken up into these categories are found in Part 1– Waterways and Harbors Atlantic Coast commerce report. Fig. 1 shows a summary for the major commodity categories passing through the Cape Cod Canal as reported in an Army Corps commerce report.

Fig. 1. Summary of up-bound and down-bound traffic in the Cape Cod Canal, broken down by major commerce group. From  Part 1– Waterways and Harbors Atlantic Coast.

The type of vessel carrying these commodities varies, but most of the commerce-related trips through the canal are accounted for by tow vessels and non-self-propelled vehicles as shown by Fig. 2.

Annual vessel trips through the canal.

Fig. 2. Total annual trips (both north and south) through the canal by commodity transport vessel type. Date from: www.navigationdatacenter.us/wcsc/webpub/#/locations

Domestic and foreign commodity tonnage varies each year (Fig. 3) and is likely affected by commodity prices, land shipping costs, local demand, and various other economic factors.

Fig. 3. Short tons of all commodities passing through the Cape Cod Canal.


Most commodity traffic is north through the Cape Cod Canal for delivery to Boston, or other points north, as illustrated by the transport of petroleum products (Fig. 4) and chemicals (Fig. 5).


Fig. 4. Shipments of petroleum products up and down the canal, 2009-2016


Fig. 5. Chemical shipments through the Cape Cod Canal.


Besides the Cape Cod Canal, a considerable tonnage of commodities moves in and out of New Bedford Harbor.  Some of this tonnage may be shipped to the south, or north through the Cape Cod Canal. The relative proportions of the commodity categories shipped into and out of New Bedford Harbor differs from what passes through the Cape Cod Canal as illustrated by Fig. 6. As shown, petroleum products, crude materials, and food account for nearly all the tonnage.  What accounts for the various the tonnage in the various categories may surprise you. for example, in the food category, tens of thousands tons of clementines are shipped into New Bedford from Spain and Morocco and transported by truck throughout the northeast and Canada.  The crude materials includes thousands of tons of scrap iron that is sold to China.

Fig. 6. Commodities (short tons) shipped into and out of New Bedford. Neither the coal nor waste categories were reported for any year. The crude materials likely include scrap iron.