First of four vessels arrives in Churchill

MarketsFarm — The first grain vessel of the 2020 shipping season is now at Manitoba’s northern Port of Churchill, according to Murad Al-Katib of the Arctic Gateway Group.

“We’ll have an active program on durum wheat and lentils going into the Mediterranean,” said Al-Katib, who’s also CEO of Regina-based AGT Foods, one of the group’s major partners.

There will be four vessels coming to Churchill this season, the same number as last year, he said. In 2019, about 137,000 tonnes of durum and lentils past through the port, which marked the first grain shipments in four years, according to the Hudson Bay Route Association.

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Al-Katib said work is being carried out to stabilize the track bed. When under the ownership of Omnitrax, there were a number of washouts along the route that cut Churchill’s only land link. It wasn’t until the Arctic Gateway Group acquired the line and the port, that the link was re-established.

“We remain very optimistic that when we go forward into 2021 and beyond, that Churchill can start to get back into that eight- to 10-vessel range,” Al-Katib said, noting the group is working with the federal and provincial government to achieve that goal.

Shipments of grain through Churchill began to drop after 640,000 tonnes in 2013. The following year saw a 17.1 per cent decline, followed by a 65.2 per cent dive in 2015 before ending altogether due to the washouts.

— Glen Hallick reports for MarketsFarm from Winnipeg.

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