The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) marked the opening of the Seaway’s 57th navigation season today, with the transit of the newly-built CWB Marquis through the St. Lambert Lock. The vessel is the first of two Equinox-class lakers ordered by Winnipeg-based grain marketer CWB that are being purpose-built for trade in the St. Lawrence Seaway. In 2014, over 12 million tonnes of grain moved through the Seaway, the highest volume recorded since the beginning of the 21st century.
“CWB’s recent investment in ships underlines the importance of the St. Lawrence Seaway to Canada’s agricultural industry. The Seaway serves as a vital transportation artery, enabling grain to be efficiently shipped both within North America and to more than 30 markets overseas” said Terence Bowles, President and CEO of the SLSMC. “As agricultural technology boosts production and global demand for grain intensifies, there is great opportunity for the Seaway to be increasingly at the center of Canadian and U.S. efforts to broaden exports.”
Ian White, President and CEO of CWB, served as the keynote speaker at the opening. “The future success of our company is dependent on reliable, cost-effective transportation networks going East, as well as West. Our new vessels, along with our terminals in Thunder Bay and Trois-Rivières, will allow us to reach our customers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa quickly and, at the same time, get the best returns for farmers.”
The CWB Marquis, which will be managed by Canadian shipping company Algoma Central Corporation, is part of a $4 billion fleet renewal program being undertaken by various Great Lakes / Seaway System carriers over a span of 10 years (2009-2018). In terms of infrastructure support, the SLSMC is in the midst of a five-year plan which commits almost $500 million to modernizing its locks and structures. Likewise, the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation is spending $99 million to renew its asset base over a comparable timeframe.
“The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System provides global access to the heartland of North America, where opportunities abound,” said U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation Administrator Betty Sutton. “Through a new Regional Outreach Initiative, we are working to expand our reach and role across the Great Lakes region, North America’s ‘Opportunity Belt’. Helping our cities, states, and provinces in the Great Lakes region realize further economic growth and productivity via our binational waterway is the overarching point. Additionally, the significant financial investments we are making in infrastructure and new technologies through our Asset Renewal Program are enabling the entire Great Lakes Seaway System to realize increased safety and efficiencies.”
Ken Lerner, Lafarge’s Purchasing Manager for Eastern Canada, echoed the upbeat sentiment as he outlined how Seaway-sized vessels enable Lafarge to cost-effectively take delivery of raw materials used in the production of cement. “The St. Lawrence Seaway enables Lafarge to maintain a highly efficient logistics chain” said Lerner at the opening ceremony.
In terms of the cargo volume outlook for 2015, Terence Bowles noted that he hopes to see a repeat of the strong results in 2014, when the Seaway recorded 40 million tonnes of cargo. “Tonnage forecasts are always difficult, especially with continued volatility in the global economy. The Seaway, as part of the larger Great Lakes / Seaway system, is a reliable transportation route with the capacity to move substantially more cargo to and from destinations throughout the world”, said Bowles.