By Leo Ryan, AJOT On the north shore of the St. Lawrence River some 330 miles downstream from Quebec City, the deepwater Port of Sept-Iles is strategically situated in a six-mile wide semi-circular bay with a well-protected entrance due to a small group of islands. It has long been known as North America’s leading iron ore port and an excellent site for coal transshipments from ship to ship, with four-fifths of total cargo destined for international markets. Today, thanks to a dramatic new increase in China business, Sept-Iles is well positioned to enter the big leagues and to climb to near the top of the ladder of Canada’s leading ports in tonnage terms. Driving this ascension has been record-breaking investments, including the launching of the Consolidated Thompson Iron Mines (CLM) storage and handling operations at a cost of $100 million as well as current undertakings at the La Relance terminal and the Pointe-Noire wharf. Late this past July, the Port of Sept-Iles and a local economic development body announced the first shipment of 165,225 tons of iron ore from CLM for China aboard the Capesize bulk carrier Navios Aurora. The cargo was transported to CLM’s Chinese partner, Wisco, located in Hubei province. CLM has begun operating its new, land-based storage facilities and an innovative ship-loading system that utilizes Canada Steamship Line’s self-unloading shuttle to load ocean ships anchored in the Bay of Sept-Iles. With an initial, CLM shipping capacity of 8 million tons by late 2010, which will grow to 16 million tons following the expansion of activities at Bloom Lake in late 2012, port CEO Pierre Gagnon predicts that Sept-Iles will become the second largest in Canada after Port Metro Vancouver, with annual volume exceeding 35 million tons compared to recent averages of 23 million tons. In the longer term, Gagnon evokes the prospect of traffic attaining 50 million tons.