Grain surges as Seaway closes; iron, steel and dry bulk shipments down from last year
Friday, January 17, 2014 - 6:14 am

For the second consecutive year, a surge in grain movements led to a strong finish for the St. Lawrence Seaway, which closed Jan. 1.

The Seaway closed for the season on Jan. 1, with the eastbound vessel Orsula transiting the St. Lambert Lock in Montreal at 1:29 p.m.

The last vessel to exit the Welland Canal was the CSL Laurentian, which transited Lock 8 at 3:38 p.m. the same day. Consequently, both sections of the Seaway were open for 286 days, given an opening date of March 22.

A relatively late harvest in the prairies producing record-breaking volumes led to a delay in the movement of grain.

Despite the cold snap enveloping much of North America, a total of 4.4 million tonnes of cargo moved through the Seaway in December, exceeding last year’s December volume by 130,000 tonnes, and eclipsing the five-year December average by some 20 percent.

Seaway tonnage for the 2013 navigation season amounted to 37 million tonnes, some 5.3 percent lower than the volumes experienced in 2012.

Despite the late season surge in grain, overall grain tonnage was down 3.2 percent in 2013 as much of the record crop was quite late.

However, the high volumes of grain currently going into storage and the pent up demand for grain movements bodes well for the start of the Seaway’s 2014 navigation season.

The bright spot in the Seaway’s cargo mix was a 12 percent increase in liquid bulk, as double hulled tankers moved volumes of petroleum distillates between distribution locations to smooth out inventory levels and ensure adequate supplies in key markets. In other sectors, iron ore was down 4 percent reflecting the challenging climate within the North American steel industry.

Reduced imports of steel products contributed to a 20 percent decline in break-bulk cargo. Movements of dry bulk were down 12 percent as reduced construction activity in infrastructure projects lowered the demand for cargoes such as cement and aggregates.

The influx of new state-of-the art vessels, purpose built for Seaway use, continued during the 2013 navigation season.

Boasting sharp increases in fuel efficiency and reductions in emission levels, these new vessels are part of a billion dollar fleet renewal effort being undertaken by both domestic and ocean carriers.

Combined with a $400 million program underway at the SLSMC to renew infrastructure, these investments testify to the Seaway’s enduring value and the faith of both carriers and the government in its future.

Some 227,000 jobs and $34 billion in economic activity are supported by the movement of goods within the Great Lakes / Seaway waterway. For more information on the Seaway, please consult the website.