By Alex Binkley

The performance of the marine sector during the pandemic has provided a vital  reminder of its importance to the health of the Canadian economy, says Bruce Burrows, President and CEO of the Chamber of Marine Commerce. Strong shipments of grain through the St. Lawrence Seaway and a steady flow of traffic through the major ports have been encouraging, he said. Looking to encourage Canada’s economic recovery, CMC has proposed “a series of measures to improve the safety and efficiency of marine transportation and create jobs, boost our trade potential and protect the environment.” The sector will be watching to see if the Speech from the Throne at the resumption of Parliament Sept. 23 picks up any of these ideas.

Algoma Central Corp. reported respectable second quarter net earnings of $17.7 million compared to $22.1 million in the period of 2019. Gregg Ruhl, President and CEO, said, “Our operations never missed a beat even as the impacts of COVID-19 hit just as we were fitting out many of our vessels for the 2020 season. “We were able to right-size our operating fleet quickly in the face of reduced demand, keeping our most efficient and modern tonnage fully and profitably trading by idling older, less profitable vessels.”

Allister Paterson, Senior Vice-President of Canada Steamship Lines, said about 25 per cent of the company’s Great Lakes fleet is idle. “The marine industry has been impacted globally. We’ve been very vocal about the fact that seafarers are  frontline workers, they’re keeping the world economy going and under extreme circumstances.”

One silver lining for the industry internationally is that Canada is seeing increased demand for its grain products, something from which both CSL and Algoma are benefiting, he said. Oil refineries are also ramping up, boosting markets for transporting gasoline and jet fuel. “We are starting to see some positive signs as restrictions are slowly lifted, and we are optimistic that things will get better as we move into the fall and into 2021.”

Looking to the future, Fednav is reorganizing its shipping businesses under one management entity to better align the commercial and technical units toward a common goal. The Marine Department, led by Executive Vice-President Tina Revsbech, will unite the traditional Chartering and Operations teams with their counterparts in the Shipowning, Technical, and Arctic units. The combined group will focus on improved commercial efficiency and the best possible service to customers. In addition, Fednav has appointed Isabelle Brassard as Senior Vice-President, Logistics and Sustainable Development. She will oversee all land-based business activities, specifically Federal Marine Terminals and Fednav Direct. Additionally, she will be responsible for the ongoing development and implementation of the company’s sustainability initiatives, external relations, and marketing.

Fednav President and CEO Paul Pathy said, “These are tough times for everyone—but by making significant structural changes now, we hope to be among the first out of the gate when the current health and economic crisis is behind us. The quicker we are to adapt to the evolving global landscape, the more effectively positioned we will be to deliver a higher standard to our customers.”

The 3.9 million tonnes of cargo that moved through the Seaway in July represents a slow-paced improvement from the waterway’s April 1st opening and the 15.6 million tonnes handled to the end of July are about 8 per cent less than the comparable period in 2019. “It’s great to see the continued strong numbers for Canadian grain shipments, which has helped offset significant declines in key cargo sectors such as iron ore, dry bulk and petroleum,” said Terence Bowles, President and CEO of The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. “The Seaway has been a vital export corridor for Canadian farmers to reach world markets during the pandemic. We’re hopeful that grain numbers will remain strong with the new crop harvests in the autumn.”