Head start in store for shipping season

Thunder Bay, Ont. — March in Thunder Bay not only means the arrival of spring but the start of shipping on the Great Lakes.

This year, navigation season will begin on March 23, two days earlier than in previous years, says Chris Heikkinen, director of business development and terminal operations with the Port of Thunder Bay.

“This year, the ice coverage on the Great Lakes is very low compared to the long-term averages,” Heikkinen said. “It’s almost at a record low for this period and we’ve reached the point in the year where the peak levels of ice would have already passed. So it’s unlikely now that you’re going to see much further ice development before the season starts, even if we had really cold weather.”

The lower ice coverage means easier work for arriving ice cutters, which typically arrive about a week prior to the opening of shipping season to dislodge ice in the harbour. At this point, it is unknown if or when the Canada Coast Guard cutter Samuel Risley will arrive.

Meanwhile, there are two wintering vessels at Keefer terminal, the Tim S. Dool and the Canadian Steamship Line (CSL) Weland, which underwent repairs and maintenance.

“I expect that they’ll be departing within the first week of the shipping season opening and will most likely load up with grain before heading out to the locks,” Heikkinen said.

The first arriving ships will be lakers during the opening few days, followed by ocean vessels about a week later.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal