By Leo Ryan, AJOT In an initiative to capitalize on long-term global and domestic demand for commodities, CSL Group of Montreal has placed an order worth some US$500 million with China’s Chengxi Shipyard for 10 self-unloading bulk carriers. Through its major domestic and international operating divisions, the CSL Group transports some 70 million tons of cargo annually. The divisions include Canada Steamship Lines (domestic unit), CSL International, CSL Australia and CSL Asia. The Boston-based international unit manages 28 ocean-going self-unloaders, including 11 wholly-owned. They are part of a pool carrying bulk products between the US east and west coasts and South America. The large contract is divided as follows:  a firm order for two Handysize bulkers (30,000-ton vessels able to transit the St. Lawrence Seaway) plus an option for two more; and a firm order for three Panamax vessels (maximum size of 70,000 tons able to pass through the Panama Canal) plus an option for three more. “Five of the vessels are scheduled to be delivered in 2012,” said Canada Steamship Lines president Gerry Carter. “We would like two of the ships to be deployed in the Great Lakes trades, but this depends on the federal government finally carrying through its proposal of last fall to eliminate a 25% duty on imported vessels. Unfortunately, Ottawa is still procrastinating on this issue.”  “Obviously our intention is to build up the Great Lakes trades, but pricing with the import duty becomes prohibitive,” Carter said, pointing out that 25% duty adds about $10 million to the cost of a vessel built abroad. Originally, the duty was intended to encourage the survival of Canada’s struggling domestic shipbuilding sector. But domestic yards have been unable to compete with the pricing and productivity of Asian yards in particular. The last commercial freighter built in a Canadian yard for a Canadian carrier was in 1985. Bruce Bowie, president of the Canadian Shipowners Association, whose members operate some six dozen vessels on the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway system, welcomed the newbuilding order by CSL. But he noted in an interview that “other shipping lines have been holding back on the renewal of an inland fleet averaging 35-years old with more technologically-advanced vessels. The 25% levy is really a deterrent to investments in a domestic shipping industry that supports a lot of Canadian manufacturing and exports.” “The government issued a positive signal last fall, but it needs to finish it off,” Bowie said in reference to an import duty now several decades old. “In the meantime, we don’t have sufficient capacity to respond to present trade opportunities like we have presently in grain shipments.”