Canadian grain exports give St. Lawrence Seaway solid start

Robust grain exports have boosted St. Lawrence Seaway shipping this spring after a slow start due to difficult ice conditions in the Great Lakes.

According to The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, Canadian grain shipments totaled 1.9 million metric tons, up 11 percent compared to the same period last year.

These Prairie and Ontario grain exports along with strong regional demand for construction materials like stone, cement and asphalt helped shipping flourish in May after ice conditions in the St. Marys River and Lake Superior slowed vessel deliveries in April.

Total overall cargo tonnage from March 29 to May 31 reached 7.9 million metric tons, down close to four percent over the same period in 2017.

“Looking ahead, we foresee momentum continuing as ships transport Canadian grain exports and a wide variety of dry bulk cargoes including construction materials,” said Terence Bowles, President and CEO of The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation. “We are optimistic that economic growth will translate into an increase in total Seaway cargo volume, with the potential to reach 40 million metric tons by the end of the year.”

Year-to-date iron ore shipments are down 25 percent, primarily because exports from Minnesota to Asia lagged in April due to ice conditions. These exports have resumed and are expected to continue in the coming months.

Cargoes that performed well in the spring include stone (up 162 percent), cement (up 14 percent) and low-sulphur coal (up 43 percent) which is used for some power generation but mainly as a raw input for steel production. Liquid bulk shipments, including refined petroleum products and asphalt, were also up 19 percent.

“Our ships are fully booked for the year,” said Gregg Ruhl, Chief Operating Officer for Algoma Central Corporation. “We had two brand new self-unloading vessels, the Algoma Sault and the Algoma Innovator, arrive this spring, as well as two vessels purchased and reflagged from the U.S. side of the border. All are already hard at work delivering products for our customers in the manufacturing and construction sectors.”

Algoma’s partner, NovaAlgoma Cement Carriers, is expecting the arrival of the NACC Argonaut this month, a recently converted pneumatic cement carrier that will transport cement products on behalf of Lafarge-Holcim primarily within Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.

Ontario ports were also reporting positive business conditions.

Ian Hamilton, CEO of the Hamilton Port Authority, said: “Now with three grain terminals running at full capacity, exports of Ontario grain were lined up and ready to go from day one. More than half-a-million metric tons of Ontario grain has been exported overseas through the port already this season.”

The month of May was also a strong one at the Port of Thunder Bay, the highlight being the variety of shipments moving across port docks. Commodity shipments of grain, coal and potash were consistent, with over 1 million metric tons of bulk cargo being loaded for outbound shipment.

Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority, said: “Thunder Bay is the primary Seaway export port for Western Canadian bulk commodities; potash shipments have been well above average for the past year due to increased direct overseas exports, and this trend continued in May. Grain volumes were bolstered by large shipments of wheat, which is up year-over-year in the port. Large quantities of soybeans also contributed to the grain tally; volumes of soybeans have increased steadily at the port in recent years and a record volume of 387,000 metric tons was set last year.”

The port’s project cargo corridor was also in full swing in May, with vessels discharging windmills, wood pellets, structural steel, and a railcar cabin at the port’s general cargo facility. Further shipments of steel and windmills are arriving in June.

Maritime Editorial