Seaway Traffic Moving Again; Weather Becomes Focal Point for Shippers
THOROLD, Ontario (AP) _ Ships moved very slowly through the Welland Canal on Thursday as the St. Lawrence Seaway managed a sputtering reopening after more than three weeks of idleness that cost shippers millions of dollars.
Traffic resumed about 6 a.m., officials said, and three ships had passed through repaired Lock No. 7 before movement was halted for about an hour while workers trimmed protruding steel rods from the lock wall.
″We’re going a little slower than normal, but that’s because of all the traffic,″ said Ron Darcy, at the seaway’s vessel information office in St. Catharines, Ontario.
More than 140 ships were waiting to move through the 26-mile canal, a journey that normally takes eight to 12 hours, Darcy said. A collapsed wall at Lock No. 7 halted traffic in both directions Oct. 14.
Seaway officials have said they expect to clear the backlog through the canal, which connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, in about a week at a rate of 25 ships a day.
The Furia, which was in the lock when the wall collapsed, was the first into the 80-foot-by-730-foot lock, and with a blast of its horn and an engine surge it headed toward Lake Ontario bound for Egypt.
Others, including the Prairie Harvest, Quebecois and Rebecca Oma, were expected to make it through the canal later Thursday, Darcy said.
Ship owners expressed relief about the reopening, but continued to worry about how long the weather would allow the seaway to remain open past its normal mid-December closing date.
Pat Doherty, vice president and manager of N.M. Patterson and Sons in Thunder Bay, Ontario, said that even with favorable weather, his shipping company would not be able to recoup all its losses.
″We’d have to run well into January to do that and that’s impossible,″ he said.
Last year, after a lift bridge at Valleyfield, Quebec, failed and clogged traffic for 18 days, the seaway was able to extend its season into the first week of January, but ship owners still incurred an estimated $8 million in losses, according to industry figures.
Doherty said he expected ships to start arriving at Thunder Bay, one of the world’s largest grain-export centers, this weekend.
″We could get 20 ships up here at once and some of them will have to anchor in the harbor and wait to be loaded,″ Doherty said.
In Duluth, Minn., Bill Cortes, the port’s director of public affairs, said a steady stream of ships was expected, ″but nothing that we wouldn’t normally be able to handle.″ The Port of Duluth on Lake Superior in the largest port on the Great Lakes in terms of total tonnage, Cortes said.
A spokesman for the Dominion Marine Association, Canada’s largest shipowners group with 17 members, said losses and unshipped cargo could not be measured until after the season ended.
″If the weather closes in on us, shipowners are facing considerable losses. We’ll just have to see what the weather holds,″ said Angus Laidlaw, the assistant to the president of the association.
Eighty-five percent of the cargo on the 2,346-mile waterway, the world’s longest, is moved by Canadian shipping companies.