By Brian Dunn

The St. Lawrence Seaway is starting another season which saw almost 40 million tonnes of cargo move through the system last year. That figure will be tough to top this year, according to Allister Paterson, President, Canada Steamship Lines. “It will go down, we think, but at the start of last year we didn’t think it would be that good either. Sometimes it’s wait and see.”

Mr. Paterson made the remarks during a tour of the 225.5-metre-long CSL St-Laurent, the latest addition to its fleet and the last vessel delivered as part of an ambitious rebuild program launched in 2010. “We started out with 17 vessels (sailing through the Seaway) last year. We thought that would be all we needed, but we ended up with 20 or 21. This year we’re starting with 17 again, but I don’t think we’re going to get 20 or 21 out. This year looks softer.”

The CSL head attributed the anticipated drop to a decline in commodity prices, particularly iron ore and coal where other countries such as Australia and Brazil are more competitive than Canada, he noted. “Grain had a great year last year and this year it looks okay. There was some holdover from last year, so April and May were quite busy, so it looks like it’s going to be an average year for grain. The other strong commodity is road salt. Because of the tough winter we’ve had, particularly in the Midwest and East Coast, supplies are well down, so we’ll be moving a lot of salt again this year.”

CSL St-Laurent and CSL Welland are the company’s two new Trillium Class bulk carriers. They join four new Trillium Class self-unloaders and are part of the newbuild program that produced a total of 11 bulk carriers and self-unloaders for CSL’s Canadian and American fleets in the last three years.

The 36,364 deadweight tonnes St-Laurent and 36,100 DWT Welland are Seawaymax gearless bulkers that feature IMO Tier II compliant main engines that are 15 per cent more fuel efficient than CSL’s previous class of ships and will save about 750 tonnes of fuel per year, reducing yearly carbon emissions by 2,400 tonnes. At current fuel prices, CSL could save up to $2.5 million a year from the 11 new vessels, said Mr. Paterson. The company may sell some of its older ships for scrap, he added. “They are expensive to operate and we could get about $3 million per vessel, depending on steel prices.”

St-Laurent and Welland will primarily carry agricultural commodities from the Great Lakes to ports along the St. Lawrence River, including Montreal and Quebec City. Each bulker will carry between 300,000 and 500,000 tonnes of grain annually. On her first voyage, St-Laurent travelled to Quebec City to discharge stone ballast loaded in China where she was built at the Yangfan shipyard. She then headed to Thunder Bay to load grain. Dry bulk accounted for 28 per cent (or 8.4 million tonnes) of the commodities loaded and unloaded at the port of Montreal last year, an increase of 50 per cent since 2010, according to port statistics.