By Alex Binkley

In anticipation of a drop in traffic, Great Lakes shipping lines are adjusting their fleets to match lower customer requirements while keeping ready for future growth in business.

“Our domestic fleet is built for boom-year capacity,” notes Kirk Jones, interim President of the Canadian Shipowners Association. “Right now it looks like it could be three or four years before there is a rebound. So the companies will be focusing on cost control and being ready for the upturn.”

CSL, Algoma and Fednav have all added new ships to their fleets with more coming, and new business partnerships being formed. Jones notes that CSL has returned some of the ships it had on charter because it didn’t have business for them. Algoma has decided to tie up five domestic dry-bulk vessels, and retire a product tanker that had reached the end of its economic life, says Wayne Smith, Algoma’s Senior Vice-President, Commercial. “We have to be cautious with our ships,” he added in an interview. “We won’t get rid of them all at once but we don’t want to spend money outfitting the bulkers for this year, only to have no traffic for them. While the grain situation isn’t bad, the steel outlook is not as good. The spot market for shipping is quite soft. As well, certain of our older vessels are no longer economic to operate in these market conditions.”

In addition, Algoma is thinking ahead to the addition of new Equinox self-loaders to its fleet in 2017. “We’re trying to balance retirements with the new ships. With the new ones we’ve added in the last few years, we’ve disposed of older ones.”

Fednav plans to use the opening of the Seaway to highlight its new Seaway-sized bulk carriers equipped with ballast water treatment equipment, which it hopes will meet U.S. Coast Guard approval, spokesman Marc Gagnon said in an interview. Federal Biscay “will be the first ship with an installed ballast water treatment system on the Great Lakes that will actually use the equipment,” he added. “So we are quite excited.” Fednav has received five other ships in the same class from Oshima Shipyard of Japan, and six more will join the fleet this year. They are capable of trading on the Lakes as well internationally.