St. Lawrence Seaway traffic increases

CORNWALL — Monthly traffic on the St. Lawrence Seaway has begun to rebound as the 2023 shipping season prepares to close.

After seeing traffic lower than 2022 for the first half of the shipping season, year-to-month traffic through to the end of November was up 3.36 per cent overall. Grain, dry bulk, and coal shipments led the traffic rebound with 5.72 per cent, 10.47 per cent, and 8.42 per cent respective increases from November 2022. The number of ships and vessels sailing the Seaway remains below last year, with a 2.28 per cent decrease year-to-date.

The surge in grain traffic is due to improved harvest yields in Western Canada and the need for more exports due to the Russo-Ukraine War and supply chain distruptions.

Coal shipment increases are tied to increased steel production in the United States.

The shipping statistics include a one-week period this fall where the Seaway was idle due to a labour strike.

Other shipping categories continue to see a yearly decline through to the end of November, the largest being general cargo, which is down 17.2 per cent from 2022. Liquid bulk shipments (oil, additives, etc) are down 1.07 per cent from 2022, while iron ore is down 0.93 per cent.

With exception to general cargo and dry bulk shipping, all traffic types and overall traffic is in a downward trend since 2019.

Overall traffic on the St. Lawrence Seaway is down 5.5 per cent since 2019 as are vessel transits — down 8.6 per cent. Liquid bulk (27.8), coal (20 per cent), and iron ore (9.8 per cent) shipments lead the five-year decline. Compared to 2019, there were 322 fewer ships using the international waterway.

A 2022 consultation by Transport Canada found that labour staffing issues and increased competition from other transportation sectors (rail, highway) were factors in changes to shippers choosing to use marine transportation.

The Seaway is scheduled to close five days later than it was in 2022 due to the mild weather conditions.

The last ships for the 2023 shipping season must be clear of the navigational region between Cape Vincent, NY and St. Lambert, QC by January 5, 2024.