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St. Lawrence Seaway traffic spikes in May as ships relieve Canadian grain backlog


OTTAWA, Ont.– Shipping traffic through the St. Lawrence Seaway spiked in May as vessels helped clear Canada’s grain backlog. 

According to the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, the number of ocean-going vessels travelling through the navigation system in May was more than double what is normally seen at this time of year – with the majority coming to pick up grain for export overseas. Canadian domestic ships were also busy transporting grain from the Port of Thunder Bay to Quebec transshipment ports to be loaded onto ocean carriers. Despite a crippling start to the shipping season due to ice coverage, Canadian grain shipments from March 25 to May 31 totaled 1.4 million tonnes, an increase of 2.4 per cent over the same period last year, said the release. 

The Port of Thunder Bay had its busiest month in 16 years, moving more than 1.5 million tonnes of cargo in May, most of which was grain. Vessel calls for the month were up 35 per cent over last year and included 26 ocean-going ‘saltie’ vessels – the most in any single month since 2000 – and 44 domestic vessels.

“Farmers had the largest grain harvest in history last year and the government ordered the railways to move a minimum amount of grain. That has turned a lot of attention on Thunder Bay, so we’ve seen a big surge that demonstrates the capacity of the port. I’m predicting that we will see at least 7 million tonnes of grain through the port this year,” said Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority.

Shipments of stone, salt and general cargo through the St. Lawrence Seaway were also strong, however, total year-to-date cargo shipments were down 20 per cent as other commodities have yet to catch up from delays at the start of the season, the release said.

“The St. Lawrence Seaway is playing a critical role in relieving the Canadian grain backlog that built up over the winter months. We’re seeing a huge spike in ocean vessels coming into the system and the Canadian Great Lakes fleet is going gangbusters to respond to orders from the grain companies. We’re optimistic that this activity will continue through the summer,” said Bruce Hodgson, director of market development, St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation. 

“With the St. Lawrence Seaway open we are looking forward to what will be a very busy shipping season. The capacity the Seaway provides is helping to clear Canada’s grain backlog and is needed to meet strong export demand for the record Western crop,” said Peter Rowe, Vice president, Cargill Limited (Winnipeg). 

 “Due to the record crop and the late start to the season, we expect our Great Lakes fleet to be working flat out for the rest of the year. We are fitting out two laid-up ships to add much-needed capacity and the new Algoma Harvester will arrive in mid-July and will immediately be deployed for the grain trade,” said Greg Wight, CEO of St. Catharines-based Algoma Central Corporation.


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