Thunder Bay's shipping season will get its latest start ever this year, according to the head of the city's port authority.

Tim Heney said he expects the first ships to arrive in Thunder Bay later this week, which will mark the official start of shipping season.

si-tim-heney-220

Port Authority CEO Tim Heney. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"We're not going to be open until well after the 14th [of April], which is the all-time record. So I think we're going to set a new record this year," the CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority said.

The delay is mostly due to the extremely cold winter the region has experienced, leading to an almost total freeze-over of Lake Superior, as well as widespread ice cover in the lower Great Lakes.

Heney said the delay in the start of shipping season could result in grain-handling companies missing deadlines for sales orders.

"Once that starts falling behind, it causes issues," he said.

"Some of the elevators are becoming full now. If we don't start moving quickly, we're going to be unable to receive any more grain cars in some of the facilities."

'It will be very busy here for a while.'- Guy Jarvis, Thunder Bay harbour master

However, once ships start arriving in the Thunder Bay port, it will be a busy start to the season.

"When it happens, it will be very busy here for a while," said harbour master Guy Jarvis.

He said about 60 ships are waiting to be escorted through Lake Superior from Sault Ste. Marie. other areas. As many as 15 of them are bound for Thunder Bay.

"I expect traffic by the end of the week, And I expect the frequency of that traffic to increase every single day after that."

First ship left port Saturday

There was some movement at the Thunder Bay port this weekend, with the CSL Tadoussac departing for Duluth after spending the winter in Thunder Bay.

"That's the first movement we've seen this year," said Heney.

The Tadoussac was able to leave port with the help of tugs from Thunder Bay Tug Services, which has been operating in the port since the 1950s.

Manager Gerry Dawson said ice conditions are the worst he's seen in his 35 years in the business.

"There's no relief, for anywhere for the ice to go. So that's a big problem. Even if you get a good offshore wind, there's no place for the wind to carry it," said Dawson.

He thanked the U.S. Coast Guard for its assistance in starting the ice-breaking process, which he said was a "big, big help" for his company.

"We just basically have to make it smaller chunks," he said.

Heney said one more ship spent the winter in the Thunder Bay port, but that vessel is scheduled to leave within a week.