Heavy ice to keep eastbound grain landlocked for now

Even under federal government pressure to get more Prairie grain moving by rail to Vancouver and Thunder Bay, crops that make it to the latter port aren’t going anywhere this week, shipowners warn.

The Canadian Shipowners Association, the Ottawa-based group for Canadian companies with domestically-flagged vessels, warned in a release Tuesday the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway are “facing the thickest and broadest ice cover in years.”

The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. (SLSMC) on Monday announced a revised date for the start of the 2014 navigation season on the Montreal-Lake Ontario section of the Seaway system “due to unusually heavy ice conditions.”

That section, originally due to open March 28, is now not set to open until the morning of March 31. The scheduled opening date for the Welland Canal remains March 28, while the U.S. Soo Locks are to open March 25, the SLSMC said.

The SLSMC opened its navigation season on March 22 on both the Montreal-Lake Ontario section and Welland Canal in each of 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The level of ice cover now has the CSA “extremely concerned that Canada’s icebreakers will not be able to create and maintain the routes needed to move key cargo to Canadian and (U.S.) industries,” the group said Tuesday.

Canada’s Coast Guard, the association said, “is doing its utmost to work with resources across a large geographical area subject to heavy ice, but this situation is rippling into Canada’s transportation and economic system.”

Concern over ice conditions and the Coast Guard’s icebreaking ability has delayed the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway past opening dates achieved in recent years, the CSA said.

Grain thus will remain stored in ports such as Thunder Bay until ice breakers open ports and support ship movements. Other industries with “already low” stocks of commodities moved by ships, such as iron ore, construction materials, salt and petroleum products, are also threatened, the group said.

CSA members have advised the Coast Guard of the need for three ice-breakers to support the opening of the Great Lakes-Seaway system, the group said, but the Coast Guard’s effort to commit the necessary resources “appears to be late as it manages challenging winter conditions in many regions.”

Furthermore, the group said, the Coast Guard’s fleet of icebreakers is “aging and too few in numbers to support the economic and environmental benefits of short-sea-shipping in Canada.”

The group said it will also urge the federal government to “find a longer-term solution to augment assets.” — AGCanada.com Network

 

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