THUNDER BAY – The Great Lakes Waterway and the St. Lawrence Seaway connect the Port of Thunder Bay with the world. The seaway was completed in 1959. Although The St. Lawrence Seaway helps to connect Lake Superior to the world, our section of the shipping network is not officially part of the Seaway. The Great Lakes Waterway is the system of channels and canals that makes all of the Great Lakes accessible to ships coming and going to and from Thunder Bay to the rest of the Great Lakes and then out to the St. Lawrence River and Atlantic Ocean.
These two transportation networks, the Great Lakes Waterway and the St. Lawrence Seaway are marvels of engineering allow an ocean vessel to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to almost the middle of North America. The ports of Thunder Bay Ontario, and Duluth Minnesota are the western ports on this amazing shipping network.
The entire shipping network is often called Highway H2O. Highway H2O, initiated in 2003, is an alliance of transportation stakeholders in the Great Lakes / Seaway System region, working to develop business and deliver greater awareness about the System locally and internationally.
One of the biggest benefits to shipping by water is that it is environmentally friendly. Highway H2O states, “Energy efficiency – On a single litre (about a 1/4 U.S. gallon) of fuel, one tonne of freight can travel 240 km by ship, compared with less than 100 km by train and less than 30 km by truck”.
The economic benefits are enormous. Cargo shipments to ports on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway navigation system generate $34.6 billion in economic activity and support 227,000 jobs in Canada and the United States. That breaks down to 98,000 jobs and $15.9 billion in economic activity in Ontario and Quebec. For Thunder Bay, our share is C$369 million of economic activity and 1,800 jobs.
Boosting the economic impact of the Port of Thunder Bay would help boost our economy, and will help further diversify our economy.
The Port of Thunder Bay is hoping that the move by the federal government in cancelling the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly will have a positive impact on grain shipments. The Port Authority reports, “The Port of Thunder Bay hit a milestone in the month of November with over 1 million tonnes of cargo shipped through the port during one month for the first time since May 2009. Tonnages were bolstered by strong grain shipments. The 891,000 tonnes of grain shipped out of Thunder Bay grain elevators during November was the most for one month since May 2002.”
The Port of Thunder Bay’s shipping tonnage totals have remained overall in a steady decline since the heydays of the port in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1983 the total tonnage shipped through the port was 23,559,163 tonnes, with 1,359 vessels visiting the port. In 2010 it was 6,862,467 tonnes, and 368 vessels visited the port.
Long-time residents likely remember looking out across Thunder Bay to see numerous ships at anchor out in the bay.
There is good news as Canadian Steamship Lines (CSL) have more ships on order. “Canada Steamship Lines (CSL) has doubled its order of new self-unloading vessels to be used on the Great Lakes—St. Lawrence Seaway. The carrier is now expecting delivery of a total of four ‘Trillium Class’ vessels between late 2012 and 2013,” according to the Port Authority. “Trillium Class vessels, designed specifically for CSL, have Seaway-maximum dimensions and are significantly more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly than existing ships in the Seaway fleet. This brings to 12 the number of new vessels that have been ordered by Cana-dian carriers operating on the Seaway in the last 12 months. Algoma Central Corporation has ordered 6 similar, specially designed ‘Equinox Class’ vessels to be delivered between 2012-2014. Algoma has been contracted to manage 2 additional ‘Equinox Class’ vessels that have been ordered by a third party”.
Many of the ships coming into Thunder Bay are domestic ships. The numbers of international vessels coming into the port in 2010 was two, as of November.
The real issue perhaps over time will be the seaway itself. “The application of short sea shipping along Hwy H2O is based on the reality that most container vessels are too large to fit into the Seaway. Container vessels currently under construction are even larger yet, bringing about a future where only a limited number of coastal ports will be able to accommodate these enormous ships,” according to Highway H20. “Accordingly, part of our vision for short sea shipping along Hwy H2O sees large ocean-going container vessels docking at coastal hob ports, such as Halifax, Nova Scotia where they would transfer their cargo to smaller “feeder” vessels, which would deliver the containers to a Seaway / Great Lakes port near their final destination,” according to Highway H20.
Fewer international ships is a sign of the times it appears, that maybe the reason that Boatnerd.com is reporting, “The 2011 season saw 220 vessels from 22 different countries make 356 transits at the Eisenhower Lock in Massena, N.Y. Of the 220 vessels, there were 70 vessels that never visited the lakes-Seaway system prior to 2011. Also, of the 70 newcomers to the Seaway, six were renamed from previous visits, with only one, the Gisele Scan formerly the BBC Orinoco, returning to the lakes after being renamed.
“The 2011 season also saw three saltwater vessels renamed while on the lakes-Seaway: Beluga Fusion became BBC Steinhoeft on March 25 at Toronto, CF Max became Morholmen at Hamilton in November. Renamed at Montreal around September 29 was the BBC Brazil, which later became the Thorco Celebration.
“The 356 transits for 2011 was down 24 transits from 2010 and 28 transits from the 5-year average from March-April through the end of December. Also, the 220 vessels that made transits in 2011 is down 11 vessels from 2010 as well. During December 2011, there were 25 transits by vessels at the Eisenhower Lock, which was down one transit from December 2010”.
“Also, of the 70 newcomers or salties which did not visit prior to 2011, this number was down by eight from the 78 newcomers that visited in 2010. The final transit numbers by the month for the 2011 season are as follows: March/April-53, May-52, June 45, July 35, August 36, September 32, October 42, November 36 & December 25”.
It is likely that one of the big projects that will face Canada and the United States over the coming years will be needed upgrades to the Great Lakes Seaway. This is an area that likely will require some political will and international co-operation.