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Port of Thunder Bay opens shipping season Thursday

Mar 28, 2019 06:26AM ● By Editor
The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Samuel Risley, has been breaking ice this spring in Thunder Bay's harbour. (CCGS / Submitted)

From CBC News · March 28, 2019 

The Chief Executive Officer of the Thunder Bay Port Authority says China's ban on Canadian canola should not have a negative impact on this year's shipping season.

Tim Heney said that canola is the second biggest grain crop that is handled through the port of Thunder Bay.

He said most of that crop is destined for North Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.

Heney said none of the canola handled in Thunder Bay goes to China.

"If anything, if they look to diversify markets away from China, we could actually see a positive development," said Heney. "Depending on how long the situation continues."

Last week, the Canola Council of Canada announced that orders from China had mysteriously dried up across a number of canola sellers. The Chinese government declared it had found dangerous pests such as fungus in the company's canola, so it halted all shipments. The unexpected canola ban came in the shadow of an ongoing diplomatic dispute between Canada and China.

Heney said canola makes up about 20 percent of the port's shipping on an annual basis.

Despite the sudden spotlight on the usually calm world of canola shipping, the port's 2019 season seems to be on track.   

On Tuesday, the Soo Locks opened for this season with the first ship heading west to Thunder Bay on Wednesday morning.

Heney said it's about a 10 hour sail to Thunder Bay from the Sault, although he noted there is still some heavy ice to contend with on Lake Superior.

"Well the heaviest ice right now is in Whitefish Bay, and that is kind of traditional." said Heney. "The winds blow the ice into that area. Makes it sort of pancake. That's always the challenge when coming through Lake Superior. And it's no different this year."

Heney said ice breakers will be escorting the first few ships through Whitefish Bay to ensure a safe passage.

In the mean time, he said the Samuel Risley has been busy breaking up the ice over the past five days in Thunder Bay's harbour.

"A lot of the channels are all broken up," said Heney. "The Risley is still here waiting for the first ship, so there shouldn't be any issues in the harbour."

Tim Heney, Thunder Bay Port Authority CEO, said China's recent ban of Canadian canola should have little negative impact. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Heney said the first ship of 2019 was expected to arrive in Thunder Bay's harbour overnight on Wednesday, marking the official start of the shipping season.

He said the start of the season looks strong with a lot of grain in the elevators ready to go. On top of the usual grain shipping, Heney said there are some other products that will be moved through the port.

"We are looking forward to some early steel shipments coming in from Europe," said Heney. "We have a load of structural beams from Luxembourg, and rail from Spain. So things are going to kick off to a pretty busy start I think."

Thunder Bay's 2019 shipping season follows a very successful 2018 season.

In December the port had its third-best month in the last 20 years with nearly 1.5 million metric tonnes of cargo crossing the 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, the shipments amounted to 1.13 million tonnes, which is 20 percent above the five-year average.

The potash tally was the second highest in the past decade.

Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here