Ships on the River remained an onlooker’s focus despite a debate taking centerstage in 2019.
The Seaway closed its historic 60th shipping season before the clock struck midnight and the calendar turned to 2020. It was throughout 2019, which high water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River made the navigation season very challenging for mariners and caused for much discussion and arguments between IJC, lake and River residents, and political officials, regarding how the conditions should be addressed.
The debate raged on from the day the Seaway opened in March and continues today, nearly a year later, as water levels remain higher than “normal” and the 61st shipping season is set to begin in just a few weeks.
According to a St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) news release in January, the 2019 tonnage results reflected the more challenging conditions encountered last year as compared to 2018, in which Seaway tonnage was at a 10-year high. In addition, trade tensions overseas, difficult navigational conditions due to very high water flows within the St. Lawrence River, combined with adverse weather conditions impacting grain harvests, all served to restrain total cargo volumes.
“There is little doubt that trade tensions certainly were felt within the shipping industry, and we earnestly hope that the forthcoming implementation of the USMCA will be one of several improvements within the global trading arena, providing for a better cargo outlook in 2020" said Terence Bowles, President and CEO of the SLSMC.
As the IJC’s Board set water flows at 10,400 cubic meters (sufficient to fill four Olympic sized swimming pools per second) for a record setting length of time, the SLSMC was able to safely sustain navigation thanks to the implementation of special mitigation measures, including the imposition of reduced speed limits and the implementation of one-way navigation in certain portions of the River.
“From farmers eager to realize the sales of their crops to municipalities dependent upon ships for the supply of road salt, the Seaway demonstrated its ability to serve as a sustainable and reliable transportation artery for a vast array of clients. Thanks to the diligence of SLSMC employees, ship captains and pilots, the season ended on schedule and without any serious incidents” said Bowles.
While no major incidents occurred in 2019, especially as the season drew to a close, unlike the ship stuck in Eisenhower Lock at the end of 2018, there was a grounding that took place this fall.
In October, Canada Steamship Lines’ Rt. Honorable Paul J Martin ran aground between Johnstown and Cardinal, Ontario. On the evening of Sunday, October 6, the ship lost power and drifted in a narrow portion of the shipping channel before coming to rest outside of the channel, not far from the Port of Johnstown. Ship traffic was heavy at the time as the typical fall transits were in full swing. The grounding brought everything to a halt between Massena and Cape Vincent to allow for an investigation to take place and since the ship’s placement outside of the channel was thought to be a risk for passing vessels. Ocean tugs, known for their great strength, were summoned to the scene, since the ship was hard against the rock bottom and unable to move on its own.
After nearly four days of the ship sitting stuck, tugs with barges arrived to lighten the ship’s load and help to refloat the ship. During the lightening process, ship traffic was again inconvenienced and forced to stop and throughout the process the tugs fought strong currents in the area in relation to the outflows. It would be Saturday, October 12, nearly a week later, that the three tugs surrounded the ship and pulled it free. It would spend time docked at Johnstown for further investigation and inspection before proceeding on its way.
Earlier in the season, there were a few other hiccups in shipping as Algonorth lost power and an anchor east of Cornwall at the end of August, a few of the locks had issues with gates during the summer months, a brand new US warship collided with a commercial vessel at the Port of Montreal in June, and a tug needed to be placed at Iroquois Lock to assist vessels during high outflows through the dam because of significant currents. And while the hiccups tend to be the focus of many, you can’t overlook the exciting times on the Seaway in 2019.
The tall ships returned to the Great Lakes and made visits to Clayton and Brockville. The view of these sailing beauties on the River occurred in early to mid-June and then again around early September. Some of the eye-catching tall ships included HMCS Oriole, Pride of Baltimore II, Bluenose II, Picton Castle, and Lettie G Howard to name a few.
In addition to the tall ships, there was once again a number of yachts and cruise ships in the region. And, the previously mentioned US warship, USS Billings, and its sister ship, USS Indianapolis, made their way from the upper Great Lakes and through the Seaway after being handed over to the US Navy.
Looking ahead, ship watchers should keep their eyes open for a number of new Seaway visitors in 2020, including the all-new US Seaway’s (SLSDC) tug, Seaway Guardian. The tug has been built in Louisiana and is undergoing testing throughout the winter. The expectation is the tug will be turned over to the SLSDC in the spring and in service at some point this season. It will most likely be the lead vessel for channel marker removal in December 2020. The new tug, costing an estimated $24 million, will replace the aging Robinson Bay, which has served the SLSDC since the opening of the Seaway.
See for details about the 60' Harbor Tug: https://www.marinelink.com/news/slsdc-orders-harbor-tug-474514#.XhkzRgEPUBV.facebook
Finally, as we previously covered this fall, the ship watching community lost a dear friend, Joanne Crack of Prescott, Ontario. Her devotion to keeping up on Seaway happenings was a pleasure I shared in for a number of years.
It was just a week and a half after her passing that Rt Hon Paul J Martin ran aground and many of us felt the loss of her involvement in providing coverage of the incident. At the time, I told someone I felt I had to cover it alone since she was no longer with us. Days after she passed, ships passed Prescott and blew salutes in her honor. Upon hearing this, I was pleased to know she was acknowledged and appreciated. It just proves that while our lives may feel overwhelming, our (River) friends and family help keep us anchored.
Stay tuned, a new shipping season is about to begin!
By Michael Folsom
To keep up-to-date be sure to check in to Mike Folsom’s @theshipwatcher and to his facebook page. If you to review past Seaway recaps - be sure to see all of Mike's articles. You will see why we appreciate his work so much.