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The U.S. shipping industry, also known as the water transportation industry, is responsible for transporting cargo on the country's own waterways (known as domestic transport) and to foreign countries (usually known as deep-sea foreign transport). The domestic trade involves shipments of cargo on the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway, inland waterways such as the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, and other local waters. Deep-sea foreign and domestic shipping includes three categories: general cargo, dry bulk, and liquid bulk. General cargo includes various types of traded merchandise, such as steel, clothing material, and food items. Dry bulk includes items such as grain, loaded onto ships by large pouring mechanisms. Liquid bulk includes merchandise, such as fuel oil, loaded in tankers rather than shipped in packaged forms like barrels, as in the past.

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