St. Lawrence Seaway shipping season off to a strong start


After ice blocked many ships from reaching ports in April, the latest numbers show that cargo shipments via the St. Lawrence Seaway rebounded in May. According to The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, shipments from March 22 to May 31 totalled 8.3 million metric tons, equaling last year’s performance.

Tim Heney, CEO of Thunder Bay Port Authority, says that the most western entry port for the St. Lawrence Seaway experienced just under 10 per cent bump in shipments for the first part of the shipping season.

Canola shipments have been on a steady increase, he says, which typically make up about 20 per cent of the 8 million metric tonnes of grain that ship through the port each year.

The oilseed is destined for Europe, mainly, though shipments through Thunder Bay may also be headed for the Middle East, North Africa, and Latin America.

The Thunder Bay Port Authority is the largest grain port in Canada, moving about one million tonnes a month. “To put that in perspective it’s about 11,000 rail cars a month, or 90 unit trains,” Heney says, adding that while it’s an impressive number, the port is running just below 50 per cent of full capacity.

Being 2,300 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, competition is everything, Heney says. The seaway as a whole has seen recent investment, including 16 new lake vessels, a move to hands-free mooring, and general refurbishing along the seaway.

Hear more about shipping grain through the Thunder Bay port, here: 

Total Canadian grain shipments for the seaway were up 6 per cent from the same time last year, on world demand for the leftover prairie wheat from the 2018 crop. The Port of Johnstown has moved 24,000 metric tons of corn and soybeans out so far, and officials say 13 vessels have arrived so far in 2019, more than doubling the amount for the same time last year.

The Port of Hamilton is also off to a strong start, with agricultural commodities leading the way. Fertilizer cargo is up 25 per cent over the same period in 2018, and exports of Ontario-grown grain are up by 9 per cent relative to 2018.

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