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Marine Delivers Magazine 2020

Great Lakes-Seaway shipping helps clear container backlog with ship transit from Montreal to Toronto

For the first time in over a decade, a ship is transporting containerized goods from Montreal to Toronto via the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system.

For the first time in over a decade, a ship is transporting containerized goods from Montreal to Toronto via the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system.

The M/V Claude A. Desgagnés left the Port of Montreal this week laden with 375 20-tonne containers and arrived at the Port of Toronto Thursday. Logistec Stevedoring is handling vessel discharging operations as well as loading containers onto trucks to be delivered to receivers in the GTA.

The containers are moving a wide range of items from construction materials like tile, stone and rubber to food items like rice, pasta and canned vegetables.

“We are thrilled to welcome the M/V Claude A. Desgagnés to the Port of Toronto,” says Geoffrey A. Wilson, CEO of PortsToronto. “The vessel delivered 375 containers to the Port of Toronto as part of a critical marine supply chain that supports Canada’s largest city. Carrying much of the food, construction materials and other resources that the Greater Toronto Area needs to keep it moving during these challenging times, this important delivery builds on the port’s many successes in recent years, including a record year in 2019 during which the Port of Toronto saw its highest recorded bulk cargo levels in 15 years, and demonstrates our readiness to receive container shipments in future in order to continue to support our region’s supply chain.”

The ship transit is helping to clear out a backlog of containers at the Port of Montreal due to a labour strike in the summer. Discussions are ongoing about a potential second voyage from Montreal to Toronto in early November, and may also involve containers from the Toronto region being shipped back to Montreal.

The Claude A. Desgagnés leaves the Port of Montreal

The venture was organized by the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC Canada Inc.), one of the largest container shipping companies in the world, and Groupe Desgagnés, which owns the Claude A. Desgagnés.

“The containers had been waiting at the Port of Montreal to be railed to Toronto for many weeks. It created an opportunity to open a discussion between MSC and ourselves about new ways that the containers could be transported cost-effectively,” explains Alexandre Beauchamp-Parent, President and General Manager of Navigation Desgagnés Inc.

“Groupe Desgagnés has self-unloading geared vessels that we use to transport general cargo to Arctic communities during the summer months. The Claude A. Desgagnés was the perfect fit for this project. It really demonstrates the capabilities of our company.”

Mr. Beauchamp-Parent acknowledges that short-sea shipping ventures of this kind can be challenging and the right conditions need to be in place to make it economically viable.

“These containers are heavy so they are more expensive to rail. We didn’t have to buy or charter a vessel for this, we already have the shipping assets available to do these voyages. MSC also export containers from the Toronto area so there is the potential to have return cargo,” he says. “All the stakeholders involved would like to see this happen more often in the future. Once the season is finished, we will do a post-mortem and see what worked well and if there are more opportunities going forward.”

Domestic container shipments from Montreal to the Great Lakes

This is the first time in over a decade that such a shipment has happened. In fact, the practice of domestic container shipments from Montreal to the Great Lakes has been abandoned since the early 1980s. A service was considered in 2009, but was quickly decommissioned in favour of transit by truck or rail.

Rodney Corrigan, President of Logistec Stevedoring, says this week’s ship transit was a significant milestone. “This project, which we hope is not a single trip, required many players to come together notably Groupe Desgagnés, MSC, the Port of Toronto, the Port of Montreal, Termont and ourselves, and, there is no doubt that moving these boxes via the Seaway will benefit the importers in the GTA not to mention create more work for our longshoremen in the Port of Toronto.  We are proud to be part of the team that pulled off this short sea initiative.” 

Tony Boemi, Vice-president, Growth and Development, Montreal Port Authority, adds: “Thanks to the collaboration between Mediterranean Shipping Company and Groupe Desgagnés, Ontario consumers and businesses can once again benefit from this shipping solution, which offers importers and exporters an alternative and often provides cost and time savings as well as a cleaner transportation solution. This collaboration between MSC Canada Inc. and Groupe Desgagnés reflects the ongoing commitment of these two vital Port of Montreal partners to their clients.” 

Vessels are on average 7 times more fuel-efficient than trucks and 1.14 times more fuel-efficient than trains. Rail and truck would emit 19% and 533% respectively more greenhouse gas emissions per cargo tonne/kilometre if these modes carried the same cargo the same distance as the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway fleet.