New Seaway season opens
amidst cautious optimism
In beautiful weather on the first day of spring, the St. Lawrence Seaway opened its 59th navigation season at its Montreal entrance with a mood of cautious optimism prevailing among Seaway officials, government and marine industry representatives.
Last year, the St. Lawrence Seaway saw its traffic decline by 3.4% to 35 million metric tons. But, there was a strong finishing burst in December, notably in overseas grain shipments.
Terence Bowles, president and CEO of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, indicated he was "cautiously optimistic" of a better performance in 2017 thanks to a number of encouraging factors. The latter included large carryovers of grain from the 2016 harvest, signs of stronger economic trends in Canada and the United States (growth in the 2-3% range) as well as in Europe, and the potentially favorable impact on maritime transport of the Canada-European Union free trade agreement (expected to be implemented, in large part, by next fall).
In addition to stressing the fundamental role played by the Seaway in facilitating trade between Canada and the United States, Mr. Bowles stressed that thanks to the world's first hands-free-mooring system and other asset renewals, he was confident that "the Seaway is ready for the future."
In this regard, observers consider that the multi-billion dollar fleet renewal program undertaken by Canadian shipowners reflects a big degree of confidence in the future of the Seaway.
The Trillium Class bulk carrier CSL St-Laurent, the first ship to transit the St. Lambert lock, featured a monumental work of art work commissioned by Canada Steamship Lines, a division of the CSL Group, as a tribute to Canada's 150th anniversary and the 375th of the City of Montreal. The CSL St-Laurent was sailing to Thunder Bay, on the tip of Lake Superior, to pick up grain for export destination.
Entitled The Sea Keeper, the mural conceived by Montreal urban artist Bryan Beyung depicts a Canada goose in flight, a common sight along the St. Lawrence River. It represents a unique element on a freighter trading on the waterway linking the Atlantic Ocean to the heartland of North America. And symbolically enough, at one point during the ceremonies, a group of geese flew overhead!
Louis Martel, President and CEO of CSL Group (pictured in photo), said CSL was well positioned to take advantage with its modern fleet of a hoped-for recovery in shipping markets that have been characterized by considerable volatility.
"For over 150 years," Mr. Martel recalled, 'Canada Steamship Lines ships have proudly plied the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway System to help build our cities and our country. We chose CSL St-Laurent to host our tribute to Montreal and Canada because her name honours the St. Lawrence River, and her state-of-the-art technology and seamanship represent the new generation of high-performing, environmentally-responsible cargo vessels."
Marc Garneau, federal Minister of Transport (pictured in photo with Mr. Bowles), and Jean D'Amour, Minister for Maritime Affairs for the Province of Québec, were among a number of dignitaries that shared their convictions as to the vital role played by marine transportation in supporting Canada's ascendance as a trading nation, and the City of Montreal's rich history as a key trading hub.
"The St. Lawrence Seaway has a distinguished past, a dynamic and vital present and will continue to play a pivotal role in Canada's economy in the future," said Mr. Garneau ."It is gratifying to see that the Seaway and its partners continue to modernize their operations, to make them more efficient as well as environmentally sustainable."
A special footnote: This was the second time that Mr. Garneau was present at an opening of the Seaway. The previous occasion was in 1959, when, as a 10-year-old, Marc Garneau was there as a member of the Garneau family witnessing the historic opening of the binational waterway in the presence of Queen Elizabeth.