Seaway Wraps Up with Grain Surge
Thursday, January 16, 2014

For the second consecutive year, a surge in grain movements led to a strong finish for the St. Lawrence Seaway.  The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) announced today that the Seaway closed for the season on January 1, 2014, 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. Once the grain began to move, the Seaway played a key role in enabling farmers to move their crops to market, contributing to a surge in Seaway cargo during the month of December. 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%.

“The record breaking crop proved to be both a bounty for farmers and a logistical challenge for the grain handling industry” said Terence Bowles, President and CEO of the SLSMC. “Once again, marine carriers moving grain through the Seaway proved to be an invaluable part of the transportation network, enabling farmers to reach markets that they may otherwise not have been able to profit from.  While we had planned to close the season on December 30, the unusually cold weather brought about transit delays, necessitating an additional two days of operation. We are particularly proud of our employees who worked tirelessly during late December’s frigid conditions, to enable vessels to finish their transits.”

Seaway tonnage for the 2013 navigation season which began on March 22nd amounted to 37 million tonnes, some 5.3% lower than the volumes experienced in 2012. Despite the late season surge in grain, overall grain tonnage was down 3.2% 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% 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% reflecting the challenging climate within the North American steel industry. Reduced imports of steel products contributed to a 20% decline in break-bulk cargo. Movements of dry bulk were down 12% 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.

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