By Leo Ryan, AJOT
Following a strong rebound in 2004, the commercial shipping season on the St. Lawrence Seaway in 2005 fell below expectations as total traffic showed no significant advance. A key factor: diminished steel imports from Europe.
Despite anticipated slowing economic growth in North America, cautious optimism prevails in marine industry circles for the 2006 season that will kick off in late March after the traditional winter closure.
Mark Pathy, Executive VP of Fednav International Ltd., the freight division of the largest ocean-going user of the Seaway, suggests that lower prices in Europe should attract larger steel imports into the Great Lakes in 2006.
Combined traffic on the Montreal-Lake Ontario and Welland Canal sections climbed by 6.5% in 2004 to 43.5m metric tons. The final total figures for 2005 are not expected to differ substantially.
While 2005 activity on the Seaway was characterized by the usual end-of-season burst in December, cumulative figures to the end of November showed combined traffic slightly down at 38.6m tons from the year-earlier 39m tons.
Grain, iron ore and other bulk posted gains. But this did not offset a sharp decline of about 25% in general cargo at just over 3m tons versus the year-earlier 4.1m tons.
Commenting on the 2005 season, Richard Corfe, President and CEO of Canada’s St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation said, ‘Traffic results remained steady this year, retaining the tonnage added in 2004. Our bread and butter commodities were solid, but less steel was imported and that’s where we see the numbers drop. On the plus side, there has been an influx of smaller vessels and interesting new shortsea movements like aluminum ingots from Sept-Iles moving by barge as far as Toledo.’
Regarding the incentive tolls program introduced last spring to attract new business, Corfe said it brought some 215,000 tons of new movements, resulting in more than C$600,000 (US$480,000) of additional revenue.
Seaway officials are hopeful of a stronger response in 2006 to the reduced lockage fees for ships carrying cargo qualifying as new for the waterway. They are pursuing a current drive to attract new types of traffic, including feeder container services and project cargo.
According to Albert Jacquez, Administrator of the Washington-based Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, the outlook for 2006 holds some promise for new shortsea developments since rail capacity, road congestion and truck driver shortages continue to plague the US and Canadian transportation scenes.
He expressed disappointment that Hurricane Katrina last August generated just a few diverted grain shipments through the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence waterway. ‘The message reached some quarters, nevertheless, that the Seaway could be an alternative to the Mississippi and Gulf Coast.’