Three-quarters of the cargo shipped on the St. Lawrence—close to 80 million tonnes annually—is international in origin. Approximately 15 million tonnes ships from or to the United States. The rest represents intercontinental transport.
Origins and destinations of products transported on the St. Lawrence
Most of the products entering Québec via the St. Lawrence originate in Europe, Central America, South America, Africa or the United States. Exports travel mainly to Europe, followed by the United States and Asia-Oceania.
Domestic marine transport, also referred to as cabotage, is defined as merchandise shipped between two Canadian ports. It constitutes approximately 25% of marine transport on the St. Lawrence, representing about 30 million tonnes of cargo. With certain exceptions defined in the law, cabotage is reserved for domestic ship owners/operators operating vessels flying Canadian colours.
Types of cargo carried by cabotage
A large percentage of cabotage transports raw materials, such as ore, forest products, minerals and metals (aluminum ingots, iron ore). It also carries hydrocarbons (gasoline and diesel for cars and trucks, heating oil, heavy industrial oils, aviation fuel) and grain (wheat, barley, oats, corn, soybeans).
Cabotage also takes many products (wheat, barley, oats, corn, soybeans) to St. Lawrence ports for transit overseas in oceangoing vessels. The same phenomenon exists in the other direction, that is, upriver. Oceangoing vessels deliver cargo (nickel and copper concentrate, iron ore concentrate, coal, raw sugar, petroleum products) to St. Lawrence ports for storage and redistribution by ship or train throughout North America. See the complete table of domestic cargo transiting St. Lawrence ports.
Shortsea shipping refers to marine transport over relatively short distances, as opposed to oceangoing transport. Shortsea shipping involves mainly intracontinental routes linking various ports in the St. Lawrence – Great Lakes system, the east coast and Northern Québec.
Advantages of shortsea shipping
Shortsea shipping offers numerous advantages over road and rail transport for the environment and safety:
· Less road congestion with positive impact on safety
· Less road system degradation; a ship can carry the equivalent of 1000 trucks
· Fewer greenhouse gas emissions
Cargo transportation choices are determined by cargo type, the three possibilities being:
- bulk (solid or liquid)
- general non-containerized cargo
- general containerized cargo
“Bulk” refers to large volumes of product loaded directly into ship holds. Dry bulk (e.g. wheat and ore) differs from liquid bulk (e.g. petroleum and chemical products). Bulkers and tankers are used to carry bulk cargo.
General non-containerized cargo transport is used for products like steel, aluminum, machinery and various types of equipment.
General containerized cargo transport is designed for finished manufactured products, which are carried in containers—metal cases allowing many parcels or products to be grouped into a single package. Container or box ships are used to carry this type of cargo.
Crude oil, the main import on the St. Lawrence
Crude oil is a top-ranking import, with more than 9 million tonnes unloaded annually in the Port of Québec. It originates mainly in Northern Europe and Northern Africa.
Iron ore, the main export on the St. Lawrence
Iron ore is the highest ranking export, with close to 30 million tonnes shipped annually. It is used to produce steel and alloys for the construction and automotive industries, equipment and parts.
Manufactured product transport
Many everyday products, and their components, are shipped on the St. Lawrence, including:
- manufactured goods (shampoo, clothing, TV sets, baby bottles, wine, toys, skis, skidoos, airplane engines, wire and cable)
- food products (seeds and grains, wine, coffee, tea)
- different types of equipment (electronic equipment)
- non-manufactured products
Many finished products manufactured domestically and many Québec/Canadian raw materials are exported by ship to different countries. Québec products travel worldwide via marine transport to reach their destination.
Containers are used to carry various types of goods. Container transport is particularly well adapted to smaller, more fragile cargo but is used for a wide range of products. Containerized cargo can be handled quickly and efficiently in ports and then be carried by train or truck.
The growing importance of container transport is seen clearly in the Port of Montréal, the only port to receive container ships. In 1960, the port unloaded 15 000 containers annually. In 2007, 1.36 million were handled here, representing 12.4 million tonnes of cargo.
The Port of Montréal’s location makes it a northeast American transfer point for containerized cargo transport. The products unloaded here are shipped to markets in Québec, Ontario, the US mid-west and the US northwest by road or rail. Similarly, manufactured products from North America’s industrial heartland are shipped to Montréal, where they are loaded into container ships to be carried overseas.
The St. Lawrence’s port network allows more than 100 million tonnes of cargo to be transported every year. St. Lawrence ports are of different jurisdictions: include Canadian port authorities, Transport Canada ports, private ports and municipal ports. St. Lawrence ports play a key role in Canada’s foreign trade, offering access to overseas markets. The St. Lawrence transportation system, with its port network and Seaway, also represent a veritable gateway to the Great Lakes region—North America’s industrial heartland.
Québec is home to 5 Canadian port authorities: Montréal, Québec City, Saguenay, Sept-Îles and Trois-Rivières. These ports are independent federal agencies, which run port facilities and must generate sufficient income to finance their activities. Québec’s Canadian port authorities represent approximately two-thirds of the tonnage handled by the entire Québec port network.