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Construction steel cargo keeping port busy

As Canadian industries resurface from the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for construction and manufacturing materials shipped to Canadian ports through the St. Lawrence Seaway has swelled.

Between March 22 to May 31, overall cargo shipments of steel, dry bulk materials, mechanical equipment and grain exports totalled 8.1 million tonnes that was transported through the seaway, according to a report from the Chamber of Marine Commerce.

The Thunder Bay port is also feeling the impact by the influx of this arriving cargo. Tim Heney, president and chief executive officer of the Port of Thunder Bay, says Keefer Terminal is seeing an increase of steel imports.

“We bring in structural steel from Europe for construction in Western Canada,” he said, adding that these numbers are “certainly increasing from kind of a low last year to what it is now.”

The Marine Commerce report says Canadian grain volumes are down four per cent as the Prairie grain carry-over from last season begins to run low, yet grain shipments are still 14 per cent above the five-year average.

This is also being felt at the Thunder Bay port.

“Things have picked up quite a bit at Keefer Terminal following the pandemic but the grain (exports) have gone down a bit — not to pre-pandemic levels, but not (as high) as last year,” said Heney.

Six massive engines that are used in the fertilizer industry are tarped and waiting at Keefer terminal for rail shipment out west. They are too heavy to be transported by road. The biggest surge in arrivals has been with rail and construction steel.

“We are getting a lot of (steel) rails coming in from Europe and going to Western Canada,” said Heney.

“We’ve seen some machinery from Europe headed for some improvements in the fertilizer industry out west too.

He added that they haven’t seen any wind turbines yet “but there’s likely some on the horizon.”

Reports show that the Thunder Bay port did well through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Through the COVID situation, 2020 was actually one of the best years in 25 years, lead by grain exports from Thunder Bay,” Heney said.

Another steel shipment will arrive next week and more rail will also arrive.

Meanwhile, the Chamber of Marine Commerce reports more than 776,000 tonnes of cement and gypsum shipments that came through the St. Lawrence Seaway in the last two months, was up 51 per cent over the same period in 2020.

“The cement is being used for residential and commercial construction as well as transportation and infrastructure throughout the region. Gypsum is used in ceiling tile manufacturing,” stated the report.

Terence Bowles, president and CEO of The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, noted cross-border trade between the U.S. and Canada has also increased.

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He said companies are using Great Lakes-Seaway ships and benefiting from the high reliability of the locks to transport cement throughout Ontario, Quebec and the eight Great Lakes states.

“Iron ore shipments remain up — seven per cent, feeding domestic steel production,” he said.

General cargo shipments, driven by steel imports from Europe for use in Ontario and the U.S. for auto parts, batteries, construction and appliance manufacturing, was up 36.7 per cent through May compared to this time in 2020.
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