Churchill port welcomes first-ever Russian shipment

A ship loaded with fertilizer from the city of Murmansk arrived in Churchill on Wednesday, the first time the northern Manitoba port has received goods from Russia.

A ship loaded with fertilizer fromnorthwestern Russiaarrived in Churchill onWednesday, the first time the northern Manitoba port has received goods from Russia.

The shipment, on the Murmansk Shipping Co. vessel the Kapital Sviridov,is considered the first in an "Arctic bridge" linking Canadian Prairie and Russian markets.

Until now, Churchill has mainly been used to ship grain out of Canada to Europe and North Africa, and to receive supplies for communities farther north in Canada.

Theestablishment of an Arcticbridge would be a win-win situation for everyone involved, said Rob Huebert, associate director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

"One of the reasons why the Russians are pushing it so hard is they are trying to establish themselves as an international ported destination, so there is tremendous advantages to be gained by the Russians if this is successful," he said.

"For Canada … we are starting to run into full capacity at all of our other port systems — and when I say systems, I mean the rail links and the port itself. By being able to go to the port of Churchill, we actually improve the ability to have trade not only from Churchill, but from Western Canada in general."

The Port of Churchill has been trying to expand its business for decades. Its largest customer is the Canadian Wheat Board, which ships grain through Churchill to international ports and — starting this year — domestic ports.

The port is also a key supply link for Arctic development projects, such as new mines in Nunavut.

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence predicted the Russian shipment will be the first of many, adding that Denmark, Sweden and Iceland have also expressed interest in future trade through the port.

"It sends the message that the Port of Churchill is viable. It's open for business, and we need to build on that," he said.

The fertilizer is bound for western Canadian farmers through the Saskatchewan-based buying group Farmers of North America.

Spokesman Jason Mann said he saved about 10 per cent on the total cost of the order by shipping through Churchill instead of Montreal or Thunder Bay, which will benefit the Prairie farmers who arethe end consumers.

The Russian shipment comes less than two weeks after Prime Minister Stephen Harper visitedChurchill to announce more than $68 million in improvements to the port and its connecting rail line.The rail lineis cost-shared between the federal and provincial governments and operator OmniTRAX Canada, which also operates the port.

Churchill, Canada's only deep-water Arctic seaport, has attracted more attention in recent years as scientists predict climate change could open the Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean.

Currently, the port's business is limited to about four months a year when its waters are ice-free.

Some experts predict that within decades, it could be operational 10 months a year.