Great Year at the Port of Thunder Bay!
by Scott A. Sumner
It was a great year at the Port of Thunder Bay last season mostly due to grain according to Port of Thunder Bay CEO, Tim Heney.“ The pandemic was probably the cause of our increase as a lot of thecountries were restricting grain exports to protect their food supplies so that left Canada. We have to export because we have a huge amount of grain we export every year. It became positive leaving the European market open for us,”said Tim Heney. “ The European vessels had very little work around the world as the market collapsed, so they became available in large numbers and that helped us out as well. We had the second highest number of ocean visits in our history since the 1800 hundreds. We had over 400 ships last season in total.”
There were no larger European ships coming to the Port of Thunder Bay until the opening of the Seaway just over 60 years ago.
The Port is mostly a grain Port and everyone did well last season said Heney who expects a good start to the 2021 shipping season.
“ The warmer weather has helped but shipping doesn’t start until the >opening of the Seaway- March 24th, 1 day earlier than normal for the first time ever. It shuts down January 15th each year. That is the maximum time frame the Seaway wants to open,” said Heney.
There isn’t much ice, only in the harbour this year and the Port has an agreement with the Americans that Canada will ice break the lower part of the lakes and they do the upper parts. The American ship at Thunder Bay came from Duluth, MN
“ We had 4 ships in port over winter, 3 here and 1 in the shipyard. They will start moving and loading grain next week as soon as the ice is broken up. The first laker ship is hoped to come March 25th and ocean ships three or four days later,” said Tim. “This season should be good with grain starting strong and some predictions that the whole pandemic market situation will start to even itself out by the end of the year and go back to normal. It is hard to predict grain as weather is a factor including other countries weather.”
According to Heney the grain harvest has been bigger the last 6- 7 years. The change of the wheat board has had an effect and the growing of grain has been more efficient with yields per acre up with fertilizer and better growing techniques overall.
“ We are seeing some non grain cargo with wind turbines and the oil sands. I think you will see infrastructure spending with pipes and rail coming through the port from Europe. Loading freight, not grain, is more labour intensive so that creates more employment at the Port. Grain is easier to load.” said Heney.
“ Also we are starting to get some fertilizer shipped from Africa here last year to help with grain. The fertilizer is the newest thing for us. Trump put a duty on fertilizer coming through the states where it is provided from African and Russia. There was also a new factory in Africa so now get fertizer from Africa. It could be a big volume for us, 1.3 million tonnes per year, and we may get a piece of it. Grain is about 9 million tonnes per year but it matches well up with ocean ships that come here so they can bring fertilizer here and take back grain. I think the year will be positive.”
The new 50,000 square foot warehouse building atthe Port of Thunder Bay which was finished in 2020 is open and now full with demand from courier companies as their business has taken off with the border closure with the pandemic.