Grain cargoes increase at Thunder Bay amid COVID-19

The following is text of a news release from the Chamber of Marine Shipping:

(OTTAWA) — Dozens of ships are expected to arrive at the Port of Thunder Bay, Ontario, over the next few weeks as demand for food staples like wheat and durum increases around the world.

Canadian vessels have already loaded 200,000 metric tons of grain in the last week, twice the average volume in March. The Montreal/Lake Ontario section of the St. Lawrence Seaway opened Wednesday, allowing Canadian vessels to travel the entire Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River waterway to deliver prairie grain from the Port of Thunder Bay to Quebec, where it will be transloaded onto oceangoing vessels destined for overseas markets. International vessels will also start arriving mid-April in Thunder Bay to pick up grain.

“Right now, we expect April grain volumes to be above normal. We currently have 650,000 metric tons of grain in storage ready to go out and we are receiving more rail deliveries. The port can store more than a million metric tons of grain at a time and has the fastest rail turnaround times, so we are well-positioned to help Canadian farmers supply their markets,” said Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority.

Recent consumer and government demand has increased production of bread and pasta around the world.

“We are seeing strong demand for food staples like Canadian wheat and durum with production up at flour mills and pasta plants around the world. Demand was already up in countries like Italy which had a smaller crop last year but with the COVID-19 pandemic, some countries are ordering extra wheat and durum to increase their reserves and satisfy this new demand,” said Carsten Bredin, vice president of grain merchandising for Richardson International Ltd. “Great Lakes-St. Lawrence shipping is going to be a critical part of the supply chain to move grain to markets in Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. “

The marine sector has adopted stringent protective measures over the past few weeks to keep workers and the public safe including screening and reporting requirements for ship crews, extra cleaning procedures, hand washing, sanitizing frequently touched surfaces, limiting shore side interactions, keeping physical distancing in the workplace and using protective gear.

“The entire marine supply chain has worked together with government and public health agencies to develop measures that protect the health and safety of our employees and stakeholders," said Bruce Burrows, president and CEO of the Chamber of Marine Commerce. "We are proud of our ship crews and port-side stakeholders who have quickly mobilized to adapt their operations and go the extra mile to support the Canadian economy and ensure essential products continue to be delivered in this time of crisis.”

Keeping supply chains operating as efficiently as possible is particularly important, added Wade Sobkowich, the executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association (WGEA), an association of major grain businesses operating in Canada which collectively handle in excess of 95 percent of western Canada’s bulk grain exports. 

“The grain sector has been hit particularly hard this year," Sobkowich said. "It started with a late harvest and variable quality, and moved to railway labor action, mudslides, and finally blockades. Now we are in the midst of trying to move grains, oilseeds and pulse crops to our customers in the midst of a global pandemic. The silver lining is that strong demand exists with our trading partners over the Atlantic in Europe and Africa, and the recognition by governments that it is essential for the grain supply chain to continue to function. The reopening of Thunder Bay and the St. Lawrence Seaway is critical in order to supply food to the world, and to keep as many people employed as possible during this difficult time.”

By Professional Mariner Staff