Port of Thunder Bay Reports End to Strong Shipping Season
by Scott A Sumner
The final vessel of the shipping season departed the Port of Thunder Bay Sunday, January 13, capping off a busy end to another good year at the Lake Superior port. MV Kaministiqua is headed for Windsor with a load of canola from the Canadian prairies.
Kaministiqua was one of 65 vessels to call the port during the final month of the shipping season, besting the tally of 49 from last year. Port facilities demonstrated capability and efficiency in December; the
port had its third-best month of the last 20 years with nearly 1.5 million metric tonnes of cargo crossing docks.
Prairie-grown grain accounted for the majority of the total; the large sum of grain exported in December brought the port’s annual grain haul to 7.4 million tonnes, up from 7.3 million the prior season.
Annual shipments of coal and potash from Western Canada were strong as well. Combined, these shipments amounted to 1.13 million tonnes, which is 20% above the five-year average. The potash tally was the second highest of the past decade; only last year was higher.
Movement of other dry bulk and liquid bulk was slower than previous years in the port and accounted for the slight (1%) drop in the port’s overall cargo tonnage from 8.82 million tonnes in 2017 to 8.74 million
tonnes in 2018.
The port’s general cargo facility handled a diverse slate of dimensional cargoes in 2018, ranging from structural steel and rail to windmills to modular buildings. The terminals $15 million dollar
reconfiguration project which includes a new rail yard, expanded laydown and doubling the heated storage capacity is underway and is slated for completion in 2020.
Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port
How was the shipping season in 2018?
“The 2018 shipping season is soon to end as the Soo locks close on January 15th which means you couldn’t get out of Lake Superior. The last ship will come in the evening of January 11 and load over the
weekend. It will be taking grain to the US Ports in Lake Michigan which you can still get to as the Welland Canal is already closed meaning you can get overseas.”
“The 2018 year has been good, a solid year. We were running behind for most of the year with a slow start after severe ice conditions which we haven’t seen this year. We shut down early last year. There is not much ice at all this year.”
“Our numbers came out about the same as last year, grains a bit higher, potash a bit lower but we end up with the same total. Every year is a bit different. This was a strong year. After the Wheat Board changed 4 years ago grain was up 24% and it has kinda stayed there. It has been a positive improvement for us. The west has had record harvests for 4 years in a row with better techniques and yields.”
You are doing some new construction at the Port?
“ We are building a new 50,000 square foot heated building. Most of our storage buildings are not heated currently. We are going to tear one building down eventually. We are modernizing the terminal and building a new rail yard. Our steel shipments have been good so 8 more rail spots will help us with steel. We are also looking at some pipe, windmill shipments. Our market is the west which has some strong
segments, like electrical transformers in Manitoba coming from Europe.”
Is there a possibilities of shipping oil though the Port?
“ We already move a lot of petroleum based products around the seaway, so oil is a possibility. You could rail oil just to Thunder Bay rather than to say Texas andput it on a ship here and take it to Quebec and
then the US Gulf Coast or other markets. It is efficient to transport this way and safer than rail. It would increase in total the amount of oil. Depending on the oil the ship would be different. There is
interest and I think it will happen with the right proponents.”
Do you have any further comments on the Port this year?
“ We are trying to raise people’s understanding of what the port does in Thunder Bay which is positive for us. The seaway is not well understand in many areas of Canada. People ask me if we could move more
grain today. You could possibly move 19 million tons of grain here each season because of the automation and we did a total of 8.8 million this year. It is a green way of moving things because a ship is good in terms of light carbon burn. “