Thunder Bay

Shipping industry 'on top' of COVID-19 precautions, ready for busy season at Port of Thunder Bay

The Montreal to Lake Ontario section of the St. Lawrence Seaway opened Wednesday , with dozens of ships expected to arrive at the Port of Thunder Bay over the next few weeks as demand for food staples increases around the world.

Thunder Bay Port Authority CEO says industry well-positioned to help Canadian farmers supply global markets

Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority said 650,000 metric tons of grain is already in storage and ready to go out as shipping season kicks off at the port. (Chamber of Marine Commerce)

The Montreal to Lake Ontario section of the St. Lawrence Seaway opened Wednesday, with dozens of ships expected to arrive at the Port of Thunder Bay over the next few weeks as demand for food staples increases around the world, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Chamber of Marine Commerce (CMC), Canadian vessels have already loaded 200,000 metric tons of grain in the last week, which is twice the average volume for the month of March.

"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," said Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority.

"The port can store more than a million metric tons of grain at a time and has the fastest rail turn-around times, so we are well-positioned to help Canadian farmers supply their markets."

Thunder Bay port critical to global food transportation

Recent consumer and government demand has increased production of products like bread and pasta around the world, which has contributed to the busy start of the shipping season, the CMC stated in a news release Wednesday.

"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 Limited,

William Hryb, president and CEO of Thunder Bay Shipping Inc., said in an interview with CBC that very stringent protocols have been put in place to prevent any spread of the COVID-19 virus as the shipping season kicks off.

"The shipping industry has stepped up to make sure any crew members who exhibit any signs, Masters as a matter of fact, have to report any type of illness...but here in the port, the elevator facilities have stringent guidelines, the ships have stringent guidelines," he said.

According to the CMC,  new COVID-19 protocols include 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.

Wade Sobkowich, the executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association (WGEA), said the efficiency of supply chains is particularly important as season begins, because the grain sector was 'hit hard' this year.

"It started with a late harvest and variable quality, and moved to railway labour 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," said Sobkowich.

"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."

He added that the re-opening of the Port of Thunder Bay and the St. Lawrence Seaway is a critical piece in supplying food to the world, and will keep many people employed during the pandemic.

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