ST. LAWRENCE SEAWAY OPENS 44TH SHIPPING SEASON
The St. Lawrence Seaway opened its 44th shipping season Tuesday with the passage of the first vessel through the locks, the 'Mississippi' operated by Lower Lakes Towing Ltd.
Compared to the past five years, the 2001 navigation season was considered “average” by the U.S. and Canadian governments that jointly operate the St. Lawrence Seaway system. Last year, 41.71 million tons of cargo were carried through the seaway, a 10 percent drop compared 2000 cargo levels. Seaway authorities blamed a sluggish North American economy, less activity in the steel industry and related reductions in commodities such as iron ore, coal and steel imports, and fewer Canadian and U.S. grain export shipments.
Despite the reduced traffic, Guy Veronneau, president of Canada’s St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., said the seaway met its business targets for the fourth year in a row. “We plan to do so again this year, though we expect no better than average traffic to continue,” he said.
This year, seaway authorities installed new seaway management technology, such as an automatic vessel identification system. The system will be tested this year and made mandatory next year.
They launched a new binational Seaway Web site for the shipping industry’s use. “This year, we’re offering e-business services, and an e-mail broadcasting feature so that Seaway users will be able to receive our information electronically, rather than by slower mail,” Veronneau said.
Seaway authorities also hope to maintain a maximum draft of 26 feet, 3 inches throughout the shipping season, despite low water levels in the Great Lakes. A feasibility study to increase the vessel draft another 3 inches through the seaway has been completed. “Each additional inch of draft boosts the cargo a seaway vessel can carry by 100 tons,” Seaway authorities said.
In addition, Seaway authorities will begin to study the modernization of navigation services with help from U.S. and Canada Coast Guard, the pilotage agencies, transportation agencies of the U.S. and Canadian governments.
The St. Lawrence Seaway was opened in 1959 and allows navigation nine months of the year from Duluth, Minn., and Thunder Bay, Ontario, to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a 3,700-kilometer voyage.