By William Hryb

There was palpable excitement in the air as Thunder Bay port officials and guests gathered at Mission Terminal Limited to witness the christening of MV CWB Marquis on Wednesday July 22, 2015. The lake vessel is named after the historic “Marquis” wheat variety, the first wheat variety bred specifically for the short Canadian growing season, whose consistent quality and yield set the stage for Canada to become a prominent wheat exporter. Dayna Spiring, CWB’s Chief Strategy Officer declared, “I dedicate this ship, the motor vessel CWB Marquis. May God guard her, and guide her, and keep all those who sail in her.” With those poetic words CWB colours were lowered and a bottle of champagne came crashing on the ship’s bow. The mammoth 39,400 metric tonne vessel, built in Nantong, China, was launched on July 8, 2014 and arrived at Montreal on Jan. 8, 2015 after a 15,800 nautical mile voyage. The ship is managed by Algoma Central Corporation on behalf of CWB, and will carry a wide variety of grain cargoes, mainly from Thunder Bay to St. Lawrence ports where cargoes will be transshipped for export around the world. The pride of the fleet is the third new Equinox Class bulk carrier.

Canadian Sailings sat down with two CWB officials to discuss the importance of the event, namely Ian White, CEO, CWB, and Dayna Spiring, Chief Strategy Officer and General Counsel, CWB.

C.S. What is the significance of the christening … in terms of the Port of Thunder Bay?

Ian White: CWB Marquis` christening in Thunder bay is significant for CWB. As you know, CWB has been on a fast growth path and the Mission Terminal at Thunder Bay was our first acquisition. To hold the christening of our fist lake vessel at our own terminal in Thunder Bay is quite symbolic to us. In addition, these acquisitions signify our confidence the Great Lakes and St Lawrence Seaway as continuing important export routes.

C.S.: What sets this ship apart from the other lake vessels trading on the Great Lakes?

Ian White: CWB Marquis is an Equinox Class ship as designed by Algoma and its consultants, and is operated by Algoma as part of its vessel pool. It is part of the renewal of the Great Lakes shipping fleet that is currently taking place and is the next generation of ships. These ships are of a new design with the latest of technology incorporated in them. They are faster, hold more cargo, are more efficient using less fuel, and much more environmentally friendly using the latest exhaust scrubber equipment that takes out 97 per cent of sulphur emissions.

C.S.: Give us your personal view of the St. Lawrence Seaway… infrastructure is getting older, et cetera … what does the Seaway have to do in order to maintain and sustain this waterway?

Ian White: The St Lawrence Seaway is our gateway to many important export markets. It is not as important these days as it was twenty years ago because markets have shifted to Asia and, therefore, West Coast exports have increased in importance. However, exports through the St Lawrence remain a vital conduit through which to reach our markets. Seaway management has been working on executing plans for improvements in its infrastructure and is investing in that as it can. This is more of a question for them to answer but what is needed is continued investing in renewing infrastructure and technology to retain its importance as a viable export route

C.S. How does the maritime industry encourage young men and women to go into maritime professions… it seems that we have a shortage of young candidates willing to embrace this kind of life.

Ian White: This is something that, as a shipowner, we are interested in, but as Algoma operates our ships, it is something they would be better answering. However I think that while the life on a ship like CWB Marquis may not be as attractive to some young people as other professions, working on a state-of-the-art ship like CWB Marquis with excellent accommodations, and being such a high tech ship make it easier to attract new, younger staff. If you were on board CWB Marquis yesterday, you may have seen some young staff members who are cadets being trained. This was encouraging to see. Creating a nice work environment and giving young people training and opportunity for career advancement is a good place to start.

C.S. We would like you to put your `soothsayer`s cap on and tell us what CWB will look like in 25 years… since the end of the single desk in 2012, CWB has certainly been competitive with the other grain companies… give us an idea what the future holds.

Ian White: Since the end of the single desk, CWB has been on a rapid growth path to build and acquire assets necessary for it to compete successfully in the grain industry. It has further plans to build and become even more significant into the future. CWB has announced plans to take in a majority shareholder in G3 Global Grain Group, which is a party combining the well-known and large commodity processor and trader Bunge, with the Saudi Livestock and investment Corporation. As part of that commercialisation process, CWB will be providing farmers with the opportunity to participate in 49.9 per cent of its equity via a Farmers Equity Trust. CWB will have the ability, with this new G3 capital injection, to grow further. I see it becoming one of the large and significant players in the Canadian grain industry over the coming years, and working with farmers as part equity owners to create a unique company,

C.S. What is the significance of this particular christening as far as your role at CWB is concerned?

Dayna Spiring: It was an honour to be chosen to officially Christen CWB Marquis at Mission Terminal. As Chief Strategy Officer, I have been responsible for the development of CWB’s network of assets and for readying CWB for its ultimate privatization.  We entered into contracts to purchase the lakers several years ago because the business case was good. CWB has historically been one of the largest grain shippers on the Great Lakes. The christening of CWB Marquis marks a significant milestone in terms of the development of CWB’s network of assets, and I am extremely proud to have had the opportunity to play a part in formally bringing CWB Marquis into service.

C.S. What sets this ship apart from the other lake vessels trading on the lakes?

Danya Spiring: CWB Marquis is only the third Equinox class vessel to sail the Great Lakes to date. Equinox class vessels are the next generation of Great Lakes bulk carriers with the ability to carry more cargo, sail faster and consume less fuel than their predecessors. The ships are also more environmentally friendly with exhaust scrubbing systems designed to remove 97 per cent of sulphur oxide emissions generated by the vessel’s engines.

C.S. As CWB’s Chief Strategy Officer and General Council, what impact do you envision CWB will have on the grain trade in the Lakes in the foreseeable future ?

Dayna Spiring: The purchase of two lakers, along with the acquisition of Mission Terminal  and Les Élévateurs des Trois-Rivières in 2014, were key steps in CWB’s ongoing strategy to develop a coast-to-coast network of strategic assets. The announcement of G3’s investment in CWB that includes a number of other eastern assets along the St. Lawrence, such as the Bunge terminal in Quebec City, complement our existing assets and increase our capacity and efficiency in the east.  In addition, CWB is in the process of building a number of high-efficiency grain elevators that are within the eastern catchment area. Ultimately, the volumes of grain moving east are driven by market demand and the profitability of moving grain east versus other directions. Eastern movement is always going to be a reality, but for CWB, increasing our capacity and efficiency in the east makes the business case for eastern movement that much stronger.

Postscript: Ending decades-old government-sanctioned control over the marketing of Western Canadian produced wheat and barley under the Canadian Wheat Board, G3 Global Grain Group said on July 31 it has closed its investment in Canadian grain marketer CWB, becoming its majority owner, and has renamed the company G3 Canada Ltd. The move clears the way for G3 Global, a joint venture of U.S.-based Bunge Ltd. and Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Co., to build new grain-handling facilities at Port Metro Vancouver and on the Canadian Prairies. G3 Canada combines the assets of CWB, including a few country elevators, Eastern grain-handling facilities and rail cars, with Bunge’s Canadian grain assets.