Thunder Bay, Ont. — The Thunder Bay harbour has been a notable sight lately with several bulk and cargo lakers and ocean-going vessels, known as salties, from around the world lining the horizon.
As of 3 p.m. Monday afternoon, there were 16 ships tracked by the Port of Thunder Bay Live Marine Traffic Map.
Chris Heikkinen, the port’s director of business development and terminal operations, says while they typically see higher vessel traffic in the fall, the number of salties presently at anchor is noteworthy.
“Salties load potash and grain in port for direct shipment overseas,” he said. “There are a number of factors that could be impacting the level of salty traffic in Thunder Bay. Ocean freight rates have reduced to pre-pandemic levels, making ocean shipping more attractive.”
He says that often issues in other supply chains lead to greater shipments out of Thunder Bay for these cargoes.
“For example, the Panama Canal is experiencing historically low water levels and implementing draft restrictions,” he said. “The stronger grain harvest this season is another factor.”
Heikkinen noted that there were upwards of 15 vessels in Thunder Bay at any given time in the past week, either at anchor or berthed for loading or discharge operations. “There is complexity in scheduling shipments and a number of reasons that a ship may wait in port for a number of days before berthing,” he said. “Some vessels are waiting for an occupied berth, while others may have arrived ahead of schedule or before the cargo they are taking on.”
Thunder Bay has the fastest vessel turnaround time of western Canadian grain ports and as of Aug. 31, the total vessel traffic in Thunder Bay’s port increased by 50 vessels (year-over-year). An extra one million metric tons of grain was loaded by the end of August compared to the same period in 2022, bringing the total port grain shipments just shy of the five-year average for the period.
“The month of August was strong for potash shipments,” Heikkinen said. “More than 250,000 metric tons of potash were shipped from port terminals, surpassing the monthly record set last year.”
Heikkinen said that potash, from the Canadian Prairies, is shipped to destinations in Europe, North Africa and South America by oceangoing salty vessels directly from Thunder Bay.
He said potash volumes coming through the port have hit a 30-year high in 2022 with the 2023 season on track for a similar outcome.
The month of August leading into September was also strong for general cargo, which included shipments of bulk fertilizer, steel pipe, steel rail, and machinery with steady inbound vessel traffic.
Heikkinen also noted that Keefer Terminal is experiencing its best year to date for steel, with regular shipments continuing through the fall.
By Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Sep 13, 2023 at 10:20