‘Successful’ St. Lawrence Seaway year despite revenue drop

St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation CEO Terence Bowles addresses the board of directors in Cornwall, Ont. on Tuesday, June 27, 2017. The seaway had a loss of revenue last season but was able to cut expenses enough to absorb the loss. The seaway is also beefing up security in the wake of terrorist attacks around the world. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL, Ont. – The head of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation says 2016-2017 was a “successful year for the seaway.”

CEO Terence Bowles addressed the board of directors during its annual general meeting on Tuesday in Cornwall.

The seaway saw a record season of 284 days due to a warm winter.

Bowles report quickly turned to the water levels, which hit 100-year high levels. The International Joint Commission responded by steadily increasing flows at the Moses-Saunders Dam in Cornwall to an unprecedented 10,400 cubic meters a second.

“The seaway responded by introducing reduced speeds in critical areas,” Bowles said. “These are very high levels for shipping, nonetheless working with pilots and the various carriers we were able to do this very quickly,” Bowles said.

Further safety precautions were also taken, including the use of tug boats in critical areas, like the Iroquois Lock, he added.

“That was something that hasn’t happened in many years at the seaway but was handled very well by everyone concerned and I think people are pretty satisfied with that result,” the CEO said.

Economic conditions prevail over shipping

The seaway handled 35 million metric tons of cargo last year with a surge of grain shipments late in the season – three percent below 2015-2016 – which Bowles believes “reflected the slow economic conditions that prevailed throughout the world.”

As a result, there was a reduction in revenue of roughly 1.8 per cent ($70.6 million versus $71.8 million).

The corporation was able to respond by cutting its operational costs by six per cent to $59 million.

“Our revenues exceeded our operating costs by some $9.5 million, so that is very encouraging for us,” Bowles stated.

As far as workplace safety, the seaway recorded “a record safety performance this year” with only one loss-time accident for a short duration.

“I want to congratulate you and your leadership team and the whole organization on your health and safety improvement,” said Bronko Jazvac, board member for the steel and iron core carriers. “Given the level of activity going on, it is really a great testament to your efforts on the safety piece. You’ve gone down from three lost-times to one and from six health cares (cases) to zero. Extremely well done, it’s excellent work.”

There was $104 million spent on operations last year with $20 million for rebuilding tie-up walls in the Welland Canal, as well a projects like the final hands-free mooring system and putting in a marine security program.

“Given the various terrorist activities throughout the world, we’ve had to greatly increase our already good security systems. We have a two year program in place of which we spent some $8.3 million this year.”

As for this year, Bowles said they are seeing “encouraging signs” in the Canadian and European economies.

Cargo is up 14 per cent as of the end of May and June “has been very good so far. We’re off to a very good start.”