Robust grain exports through the St. Lawrence Seaway this spring were not sufficient to overcome declines in other product categories resulting from a slow start due to difficult ice conditions in the Great Lakes. Canadian and U.S. grain shipments via the St. Lawrence Seaway totaled 2.2 million tonnes, up 8.6 per cent compared to the same period last year. Overall cargo tonnage from March 29 to May 31 reached 7.9 million tonnes, down close to four per cent over the same period in 2017.

“Strong traffic in May enabled the Seaway to overcome a slow start, due principally to cooler temperatures and icy conditions in the Lake Superior region during the first part of April. Looking ahead, we foresee momentum continuing as ships transport Canadian grain exports and a wide variety of dry bulk cargoes including construction materials,” said Terence Bowles, President and CEO of The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation. “We are optimistic that economic growth will translate into an increase in total Seaway cargo volume, with the potential to reach 40 million tonnes by the end of the year.”

Year-to-date iron ore shipments are down 25 per cent, primarily because exports from Minnesota to Asia lagged in April due to ice conditions.  These exports have resumed and are expected to continue in the coming months.

Cargoes that performed well in the spring include stone (up 162 per cent), cement (up 14 per cent) and low-sulphur coal (up 43 per cent) which is used for some power generation but mainly as a raw input for steel production. Despite strong gains for stone and cement, aggregate “dry bulk” cargoes declined by 19 per cent, primarily because of a sharp drop in salt shipments. Liquid bulk shipments, including refined petroleum products and asphalt, were up 19 per cent.

“Our ships are fully booked for the year,” said Gregg Ruhl, Chief Operating Officer for Algoma Central Corporation, the largest Canadian ship operator in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region. “We had two brand new self-unloading vessels, Algoma Sault and Algoma Innovator, arrive this spring, as well as two vessels purchased and reflagged from the U.S. side of the border. All are already hard at work delivering products for our customers in the manufacturing and construction sectors.”

Algoma’s JV partner NACC (NovaAlgoma Cement Carriers) is also expecting the arrival of NACC Argonaut this month, a recently converted pneumatic cement carrier that will transport cement products on behalf of Lafarge-Holcim primarily within Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.

Ian Hamilton, CEO of the Hamilton Port Authority, said: “2018 is off to a great start at the port of Hamilton. Now with three grain terminals running at full capacity, exports of Ontario grain were lined up and ready to go from day one. More than half-a-million tonnes of Ontario grain have been exported overseas through the port already this season.”   

The month of May was also a strong one at the port of Thunder Bay, the highlight being the variety of shipments moving across port docks. Commodity shipments of grain, coal and potash were consistent, with over 1.0 million tonnes of bulk cargo being loaded for outbound shipment. Tim Heney, CEO of Thunder Bay Port Authority, said: “Thunder Bay is the primary Seaway export port for Western Canadian bulk commodities; potash shipments have been well above average for the past year due to increased direct overseas exports, and this trend continued in May. Grain volumes were bolstered by large shipments of wheat, which is up year-over-year in the port. Large quantities of soybeans also contributed to the grain tally; volumes of soybeans have increased steadily at the port in recent years and a record volume of 387,000 metric tons was set last year.”