By Alex Binkley

With steadily growing rosters of modern vessels, Canadian shipping lines are hoping for a strong start to the 2017 season so their new assets can show their worth. Louis Martel, Executive Vice-President and Incoming CEO of the CSL Group, says tough times in the global maritime industry in recent years have his company clearly focused on ways to improve its bottom line. “Amid the continued volatility, we at Canada Steamship Lines are staying focused on reducing costs, gaining efficiencies and improving the overall performance and flexibility of our operations by taking full advantage of our modern fleet and leveraging new technologies. Shipping markets are by nature cyclical, but the uncertainty we have witnessed in the past few years is unprecedented in recent history, and putting enormous pressures on shipping companies worldwide. We hope to see a market recovery in 2017, but we’re not counting on it,” he added. “Although the 2016 Great Lakes shipping season was better than originally expected thanks to an uptake in grain demand in the fall, we are very far from the types of results we were seeing in previous years.”

Dennis Pfeffer, a spokesman for FALline, Fednav’s inbound liner service, said early signs are shipments from Europe to Great Lakes ports should be off to a good start. “We think it will be as fairly good season. We already have at least four ships booked for the opening of the Seaway.” Beyond that is hard to predict because “there so many variables out there,” he said. “Will the change in the U.S. Administration encourage or discourage shipments of construction steel and related general goods?” he wondered.

Ami Zack, a spokesman for Fednav’s outbound Great Lakes cargo, said shipping prospects are encouraging. “We have a lot on the books. There’s cargo out there. The grain available for loading will be an attraction for shipping lines as long as there are markets for it.”

Wayne Smith, Senior Vice-President Commercial of Algoma Central Corp. said the early start to the 2017 season and the lack of ice in the Great Lakes “bodes well for the season especially compared to where we were last year. The 2016 season started so tentatively because there was little demand for iron ore or salt. It wasn’t until the second half of the year that signs of growth appeared. We expect the fleet to be busy responding to stronger demand. On the Lakes and internationally, there’s been a general weakness in all trades,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot to bring the big commodities back to par.”

The reason Algoma and the other lines are anxious to show what their new ships are capable of is “because they are larger, more fuel efficient and generate better results per tonne mile,” he said. “And they’re so highly automated.”

CSL’s fleet includes modern self-unloaders and bulk carriers that haul iron ore, coal, ilmenite, salt, coke, slag, limestone, dolomite, wheat, corn, soybean, canola, gypsum and petroleum coke. As part of its program of replacing older ships with newbuilds, CSL operates four Trillium Class self-unloaders along with two modern bulk carriers.

Fednav has three of its most modern ships in the FALline service that will be making initial calls throughout the Great Lakes in late March and early April. Pfeffer says the new ships are “much more efficient than the ones they replaced. They’re far superior in every category and are a marketing tool for us. It’s a selling point among customers to operate more environmentally friendly ships.”

Smith says Algoma will receive two new Equinox self-unloaders this year with more new ships to arrive in 2018, by which time it will have 11 of the Equinox class Seaway maximum sized bulk carriers and self-unloaders in its fleet. Its fleet currently consists of 14 self-unloaders, seven dry bulk carriers and six product tankers.

Canfornav launched its on-going new building program and now its ultra-modern fleet is in a powerful position to provide the tonnage, services and flexibility that many customers have been looking for. “Sustainable development and corporate responsibility are concepts that are taken to heart at Canfornav and we are actively involved in multiple environmental initiatives in Canada and around the world,” the company said. “With this in mind, Canfornav will strive to remain at the forefront of the industry with the implementation of new technologies and management protocols aimed at conserving the environment in the areas that we trade in.”

Canfornav is one of the largest ocean-going carriers linking ports on the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes with worldwide destinations. With a fleet of more than 40 vessels, Canfornav carries approximately 7 million tonnes of cargo annually and performs more than 300 voyages per year.

The newest vessel in the Desgagnés Transport fleet is Damia Desgagnés, an asphalt carrier capable of navigating in ice-laden waters. The ships carry equipment that enables them to meet strict environmental standards including ballast and grey water treatment systems, as well as being able to operate at least seven consecutive days with no discharge of effluents or residues.

Louis-Marie Beaulieu, Chairman and CEO of Desgagnés, says the company is showing environmental leadership in the Canadian marine industry. Its new ships will be powered by dual-fuel engines allowing the use of liquefied natural gas, marine diesel oil and heavy fuel oil. When using natural gas as its primary source of energy, Damia Desgagnés will achieve several environmental objectives, including lower carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions along with the near-complete elimination of sulphur dioxide emissions and air particle emissions will be practically non-existent due to the efficient combustion of natural gas.

“Damia Desgagnés is part of an extensive investment program for the renewal and expansion of the Desgagnés fleet with vessels fitted with cutting-edge technology, which demonstrates Desgagnés’ commitment and confidence in its future,” he said.