By Theo van de Kletersteeg

Hard hit by persistent ice coverage in the Great Lakes during the first month of the Seaway’s commercial navigation during the 2014 shipping season, total tonnage in April nosedived to 2.1 million tonnes from 4.0 million tonnes during the month of April of the preceding year. While the volume recorded in May rebounded nicely to 4.5 million tonnes, year-to-date volume for 2014 at 6.6 million tonnes remains well below the corresponding number of 8.2 million tonnes for 2013.

While iron ore, coal and liquid bulk were all down more than 30 per cent on a year-to-date basis, general cargo did well with a 41 per cent increase to 623,000 tonnes on a year-to-date basis, representing 9.5 per cent of total Seaway volumes.

Grain did exceptionally well during the month of May. After a disastrous month of April during which only 191,000 tonnes of grain passed through the Seaway, shipments in May totalled almost 1.5 million tonnes, representing a sharp increase compared to shipments of 890,000 tonnes during the month of May 2013. Actually, during the month of May, shipments of grain represented about a third of all of the cargo carried through the Seaway. Put in perspective, in 2012 and 2013 grain shipments averaged 22.3 per cent of overall Seaway volumes. While year-to-date grain volumes are still 6 per cent below 2013 volumes, it is clear that a considerable effort was made to alleviate the backlogs of grains that were ready to be shipped to transshipment destinations and overseas customers.

With Canadian grain production in 2013 exceeding 2012 production by 37 per cent, to 37.5 million tonnes, and with another good year expected for 2014, it appears that the Seaway is poised to surpass its ten-year grain shipping records. For the record, shipments of Canadian and U.S. grains passing through the Seaway averaged 9.2 million tonnes per year from 2004 up to and including 2013. The big question is how close the Seaway will come to its all-time grain shipment levels that it set from 1978 to 1984 when, on average, more than 24 million tonnes of grain passed through the Seaway annually.

A substantial increase in grain tonnages during 2014, and the resulting increases in toll revenues, would go a long way in enabling the Seaway to produce an operating surplus for its 2015 fiscal year.