By Alex Binkley

The new freighters that have joined the fleets of Great Lakes shipping lines in recent years are showing their worth and even leading to consideration of additional orders.

Canada Steamship Lines has its state-of-the-art Trillium class ships and Algoma Central its Equinox vessels. Built to take advantage of new technology and designs, the vessels address shipowner needs to stress efficiency in their operations.

Louis Martel, President and CEO of Canada Steamship Lines, says the Seaway-Great Lakes is a very mature market. “The best thing we can do for our customers is improve our efficiency. We need new technology and innovation to secure our customer base.”

He doesn’t expect new cargoes in the future that will require ships other than self-unloaders and bulk carriers like the six Trillium class ships working the Lakes. Since the arrival of the first, Baie St. Paul in 2012, the new ships “have been very good to CSL,” he said. In fact, the company is looking into building a new series of Trillium ships in response to growing Great Lakes business volumes. “While they will be the same type of ship as the original Trilliums, there are a lot of improvements we can make to them with today’s technology,” he said.

CSL says the new vessels offer rapid discharging and high environmental standards that make bulk cargo shipping an effective and attractive solution to keep costs down and minimize environmental impacts.

In addition to its Equinox acquisitions, Algoma Central surprised many with its acquisition late last year of four used U.S.-flag lakers from American Steamship Company for registering under the Canadian flag. Algoma CFO Peter Winkley said the company expects 2018 to see a continued resurgence of cargoes that will test the company’s capacity. Algoma has decided to scrap American Victory, the oldest ship acquired from American Steamship Co. Algoma is still studying the best reconfiguration for American Valor, built in 1953. However, Buffalo and Adam Cornelius will be in service this year hauling aggregates, salt and other commodities on the Great Lakes under the Algoma banner, he said. The company said the acquisition of the two vessels strengthens its market position in the dry bulk business where it sees many opportunities.

Winkley said the price for the four vessels was attractive enough to make the purchase a useful stop-gap measure. “We’re dealing with delays in receiving our new ships, and we are managing our older capacity as well as we can.”

Meanwhile the company is also welcoming brand new additions to its fleet to replace much older ships. Algoma Innovator, the first of two new Equinox Class 650’ self-unloading dry-bulk freighters being built in a Croatian shipyard, is expected to arrive in Canada for the start of the Seaway season. She will be joined by Algoma Sault this spring, bringing the number of new Equinox class vessels to seven—four gearless bulkers and three self-unloaders. Five additional vessels are under construction in China. Winkley said Algoma is “very happy with the Croatian-built ship. They clearly pay a lot of attention to building ships.”

Fednav has added 15 new Lakers to its fleet in recent years, and 2017 became an exceptional year because no new ships were added, says Marc Gagnon, Director of Government Affairs and Regulatory Compliance. “However, this year we’ll receive five of an order for ten more ships from Japan.”

Fednav’s vessels are built to bring import cargoes into the Great Lakes and take shipments like grain and other commodities to export markets, he said. The holds of the new vessels are designed for improved general cargo carriage, compared to earlier ships, he said. In total, 45 of Fednav’s 76 ships are able to enter the St. Lawrence Seaway locks.

The addition of the new ships shows Fednav’s “long term optimism about business on the Great Lakes,” he said.

Spliethoff’s Cleveland Express is celebrating its fifth year of transatlantic service by adding a call this year at a new Logistec terminal at Ramey’s Bend near Port Colborne, which will be included in its twice a month service from Europe to Cleveland with a stop at Port of Valleyfield. Bart Peters, the head of Spliethoff Marine’s Atlantic Division, said the extension of its container service to Ramey Bend will allow it to offer service to customers in the Greater Toronto Area as well as throughout the Niagara Region, Southwestern Ontario and upstate New York. The terminal is near the Lake Ontario end of the Welland Canal.

Spliethoff works with Logistec at the three stops to load and unload cargo from its ships. The first vessel is due in Valleyfield March 30, the day after the scheduled opening of the Seaway. Valleyfield is Spliethoff’s gateway to serve customers in the Montreal region.

“This year we expect more cargo from the United States due to the weaker U.S. dollar against the euro, so, hopefullythis will result in a bit more balanced cargo flow, Peters said.

In 2017, cargo volumes from Europe to North America “were considerably higher than the volumes eastbound.” While the voyages will commence in Antwerp, stops can be made in Hamburg and British ports if there is sufficient volume, he said. “Our intention is to maintain at least two sailings per month.”

Ken Bloch Soerensen, President and CEO of Algoma, says, “With the addition of the new class-leading vessels to our domestic fleet, the 2018 navigation season is already turning out to be an exciting one. Algoma Innovator will be a leader in the river-class segment and we look forward to being able to offer more flexibility to our customers.”

Algoma’s Equinox Class vessels bring new technological advancements in fuel efficiency, reducing its environmental footprint and its forward-thinking design has made Algoma a frontrunner in the marine industry. Algoma Sault, the second Seaway-max Equinox Class self-unloading bulk carrier built by Yangzijiang Shipyard in China is expected to arrive in Canada in late March. “The addition of Algoma Sault to our domestic fleet will further strengthen our position on the Great Lakes and we look forward to her arrival,” Soerensen said. The 740-foot self-unloader will join her sister ship, Algoma Niagara.

In addition to those, Algoma Conveyer, acquired by Algoma in 2017 at auction from the failed Nantong Mingde shipyard, is undergoing refurbishment and completion of construction and is expected to be delivered in early 2019.