Are efforts to diversify and expand cargo routes contributing to a 13 per cent increase in year-to-date cargo shipments via the St. Lawrence Seaway? According to The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC), total cargo tonnage from March 20 to August 31 reached 19.9 million tonnes – 2.3 million tonnes more compared to the same period in 2016. Year-to-date shipments of high-value general cargo totaled two million tonnes, up 40 per cent over the 1.4 million tonnes carried during the same period last year.

“Our bread and butter cargoes remain raw materials such as iron ore, grain, and road salt that keep North American factories running, feed cities, and ensure that our highways are safe. As well, the Great Lakes-Seaway system continues to make significant inroads at attracting high-value general cargo such as specialty steel, machinery and oversized project cargo,” said Terence Bowles, President and CEO of SLSMC. 

As for specific commodities, iron ore shipments of 4.7 million tonnes were ahead of 2016 volumes by 1.6 million tonnes. Coal volumes were down by 25 per cent to 1.1 million tonnes, while dry bulk volumes were up by 18.5 per cent to 5.6 million tonnes. Grain shipments were down slightly, to 4.5 million tonnes.

The Port of Algoma, in Sault Ste. Marie, has attracted 161,000 metric tons of cargo of third-party cargo so far this season to diversify beyond its anchor customer, Algoma Steel. The cargo includes steel billets from South America destined for a local manufacturer servicing the oil and gas sector. And for the first time in many years, road salt mined in Southern Ontario is being shipped by water to the port, where it is then being trucked to Northern Ontario communities and over to the U.S.  “This salt was being trucked all the way to Sault Ste. Marie. Now, it’s on the water for the long haul and by truck for the last mile. This is a much more cost-efficient and environmentally smart way to move this cargo. It relieves congestion on Ontario highways and reduces carbon emissions,” says Anshumali Dwivedi, CEO of the Port of Algoma. “This substantial increase in cargo is an encouraging sign and demonstrates our company’s reduced dependence on Algoma, our anchor customer. It’s also leading to employment opportunities at local support services firms, which is good for the Sault Ste. Marie economy.”

The Port of Thunder Bay has also reported a strong year for its general cargo docks, including a ship from Poland carrying a hotel broken into pre-fabricated modular pieces (see following article).

Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority, said: “The Port of Thunder Bay has been handling increasing volumes of project cargo over the past decade or so, since we started seeking new cargoes for our general cargo facility, Keefer Terminal. The hotel project adds to the list of Calgary-bound shipments. The Peace Bridge was another. The terminal has become a cargo transit hub for all kinds of projects in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Our geographic location is one of our competitive advantages. We connect the Seaway with western Canada. We’ve even handled windmill components for Diavik Diamond Mine, which is 300km northeast of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.” 

Laurie Ritter, from Polcom USA, the logistics company that organized the hotel transport, added: “Thunder Bay provides a cost-effective water arrival option to Central and Western Canada without compromising security and inland resources.  Having worked with some of the largest ports in the U.S., Thunder Bay Port Authority provides refreshing individual attention, flexibility to schedule change and requests while maintaining required confidentiality.”