The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) marked the opening of the Seaway’s 57th navigation season April 2 with the transit of the newly-built CWB Marquis through the St. Lambert Lock
MONTREAL, Que.–Despite the continuing challenges of navigating through heavy ice formations in parts of the waterway still not wiped out by the spring thaw, the St. Lawrence Seaway opened its 57th season today on an upbeat note.
Terence Bowles, president and CEO of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC), went as far as to express the hope of seeing a repeat of the strong results of 2014, when the Seaway handled a post-recession high of 40 million tonnes of cargo. This included 12 million tonnes of grain, the highest volume in more than a decade.
Earlier this year, Seaway officials estimated it would be difficult to match the 2014 performance. But Bowles suggested that grain shipping – a key Seaway commodity – would remain strong while overall demand could be enhanced by the current more robust outlook in the U.S. economy and new signs of economic recovery in Europe, notably in Germany and France. “These are causes for optimism.”
Echoing the positive note was Ken Lerner, purchasing manager for France’s Lafarge group in Eastern Canada, who affirmed: “The St. Lawrence Seaway enables Lafarge to maintain a highly efficient logistics chain.”
The first vessel through the St. Lambert Lock in Montreal was the newly-built CWB Marquis, carrying a load of 29,000 tonnes of iron ore destined for the ArcelorMittal steel factory in Hamilton on Lake Ontario before proceeding to Thunder Bay, on the tip of Lake Superior, to pick up grain. Two ships ordered by the restructured Canadian Wheat Board after losing its marketing monopoly in 2012 are managed and operated by Algoma Central Corporation, biggest bulk carrier on the Great Lakes/Seaway system.
According to Bowles, the investment by CWB in the two ships underlines the importance of the Seaway to Canada’s agricultural industry.
“As agricultural technology boosts production and global demand for grain intensifies, there is a great opportunity for the Seaway to be increasingly at the center of Canadian and U.S. efforts to broaden exports,” said Bowles.
Present at the opening ceremony, CWB president Ian White said that the new vessels (with the second slated to arrive from China in the coming weeks), together with its terminals in Thunder Bay and Trois-Rivières, allow CWB to penetrate markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa quickly – “and at the same time get the best returns for farmers.”
In an interview, White also alluded to “the potential of expanding markets in Indonesia, Japan and China for specialty grains and high quality wheat.”
However, the outlook for iron ore exports, previously a major commodity for Seaway shipping, remains lacklustre. As explained Allister Paterson, President of Canada Steamship Lines, “with the plunge in world iron ore prices, it is just not possible to compete with such low cost producers as Australia and Brazil.”
The opening of the Seaway was delayed by one week due the second harsh winter in succession. With their limited capacity, Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard ice-breakers have been doing their best to clear channels. At present, persistent heavy ice cover on Lake Superior and Lake Erie is forcing many shipping lines to delay commercial entry into the waterway. Industry sources indicate that several dozen vessels in the Canadian domestic fleet of some 80 ships will not likely move from their winter parking spots on the marine highway until the end of April.