By Alex Binkley

The extra week of shipping through the Welland Canal in early January generated 16 vessel transits and that result had shipping lines and ports hoping this year’s experiment will be turned into a five-year pilot project.

A little more than a month after the end of the extending Canal season, the Seaway Management Corp. decided the results merited a repeat in 2021, said spokesman Andrew Bogora. “The extension of the season for the Welland Canal showed sufficient promise to warrant continuing the effort in the future. Carriers and shippers are showing interest in a longer season, and SLSMC will continue to work with all stakeholders in exploring best possible ways to optimize the Seaway’s navigation season.”

Gregg Ruhl, President and CEO of Algoma Central, said more tests of the week-long extension are needed to see how it works under different weather conditions. This year came with an easy start to January as far as weather went. The extra days also brought additional business for Algoma during the last week of December as Ruhl had expected it would.

Larissa Fenn of Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority said six additional ships transporting steelmaking commodities and grain were handled in Hamilton during the first week of January. “We’re really pleased with the Seaway making an effort to extend the season. Trying it for five years would make a lot of sense. “We didn’t see a particular spike in traffic during the week prior to Dec 31, but there was an additional factor causing uncertainty last year, namely the discussions around closing the Seaway on an emergency basis to address the water levels issue, which may have tempered some activity. We believe a consistently and progressively extended season is a very good thing. We applaud the Seaway for the successful pilot and would encourage them to continue to move in this direction,” Fenn said. “In addition to moving more vessels, the manufacturers we serve, in steel and other industries would benefit from lower inventory costs.”

Steve Salmons, President of Port of Windsor, said the shippers in his port weren’t able to take advantage of the extended season but “they believe that in 2020, with a full season’s knowledge of the extended opening, there should be more throughput with the longer season.”

Ruhl said Algoma is satisfied with the extra eight days as far as this five-year pilot program is concerned. Knowing the Canal was open in early January brought Algoma more cargoes during the last week of December. “Of course, it helped having favourable weather and no heavy wind or ice this year, but when this becomes the norm, we are confident shippers and carriers will take advantage of the additional days regardless of the weather.” The additional late season cargoes handled by Algoma consisted of a mix of iron ore, grain and gypsum.