Coal, ore plunge hits St. Lawrence Seaway volumes – by Eric Atkins (Globe and Mail – January 17, 2017)

The amount of cargo sailing on the St. Lawrence Seaway has sunk to the lowest levels in seven years amid a plunge in demand for coal and iron ore, two of waterway’s main commodities.

Total freight volumes for 2016 fell by 3 per cent to 35 million tonnes, led by 10-per-cent drops in coal and 14-per-cent declines in iron ore, according to the year-end figures released by the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. on Monday morning.

The slowdown comes even as grain shipments continued their climb, and the 3,700-kilometre route enjoyed its longest shipping season since 2008, due to a mild spring that allowed ships to begin sailing on March 21.

Shipments of wheat, corn and other field crops rose by 4 per cent, highlighting the growing importance of agricultural exports to the seaway, which has seen grain volumes rise by 20 per cent since 2010.

The Port of Thunder Bay has become a major transit point for Western Canadian crops destined for foodmakers in Europe and Africa. The Lake Superior port reported its heaviest December since 1995, after a strong harvest was delayed by wet weather getting to the Prairie elevators. For the full season, grain volumes entering the seaway at U.S. ports in Duluth, Minn.-Superior, Wis., and Toledo, Ohio, rose by 21 per cent.

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