Supply chain disruption has been the business buzz phrase of 2021 and now 2022 – and for good reason. Whether it’s from climate-related weather events, labour issues or more recently protests related to the pandemic – supply chain disruptions result in serious economic consequences for both businesses, their employees and their customers.
The chaos of the last two years has shone a glaring light on the need for national strategies that not only build more resilient networks but really make much smarter use of the transportation resources already at our disposal — like our inland waterways.
Throughout the pandemic and amidst global disruptions, Great Lakes-St. Lawrence shipping not only delivered for their traditional bulk customers without delays, but both U.S. and Canadian ports and their partners provided alternative solutions to companies whose raw materials or goods would otherwise be stuck or delayed on other modes, or in coastal ports. For the first time in many years, new container services into the Great Lakes were expanded and piloted in 2021, with more plans underway for this coming year.
Add to that an increased urgency to transition to a low carbon or no carbon economy – and the virtues of moving more goods on the greenest mode (marine) has led to a fresh impetus for both governments and the private sector to really dig into how we can better leverage the bi-national transportation corridor that stretches right into the heart of North America and has up to 50% capacity to do more on some marine routes, right now.
With this in mind, the Chamber of Marine Commerce (CMC) unveiled a 2022 wish list for legislative and policymakers to work in partnership with industry to focus on how we can make better use of our Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River corridor, and ensure it remains resilient and at the forefront of marine innovation.
Green Transportation Corridor on the Great Lakes
On the decarbonization front, CMC members are looking to partner with the Canadian federal government, as well as with research facilities, to explore the potential for a multi-stakeholder initiative to establish a new and innovative Green Shipping Corridor in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence waterway. A dedicated port to port route could showcase and test the best of new technology, infrastructure and policies — while establishing benchmarks and measuring carbon reduction progress.
Canada’s domestic fleet and its port and service partners in this waterway are already recognized for their leadership and innovation in this space. They were founding partners in the environmental improvement program Green Marine, which has now expanded throughout North America and in Europe. Canadian ship operators and port and supply partners established an Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) supply network from scratch in the region; performed the largest and longest biofuel trial in the world and invested more than $2 billion in new eco ships that are specially designed to maximize efficiency through narrow rivers and locks.
Through these efforts, CMC members’ Canadian commercial fleets have already decreased carbon emissions by 19% between 2008 and 2017. Domestic marine navigation (including cargo, passengers, and fishing) contributes less than 0.59% of all GHG emissions in Canada, far less than trains and trucks.
However, ships and ports will require support and investment to expand the use of transition fuels, such as LNG and biofuels, as well as develop new propulsion technologies to propel marine innovation even further to meet GHG-reduction targets of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
High Water on the Inland Seas
While the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway (GLSLS) has proven a resilient waterway during the pandemic, we cannot be complacent. Recent experience with flooding in British Columbia demonstrates that climate change means weather events will be more extreme, and various levels of government along with industry must now work together to develop a much broader, holistic climate resiliency plan that looks at every avenue including flood zoning, shoreline resiliency and infrastructure investments for residents and business owners.
During recent years, the GLSLS has experienced its own tribulations due to high water events, with ships, ports, marinas and residents experiencing millions of dollars of damage and/or delayed projects and business.
In 2020, the St. Lawrence Seaway navigation season through the Montreal-Lake Ontario section was delayed by 12 days to accommodate outflows of water through the Moses-Saunders dam that were unsafe for navigation. The increased outflow, decided by the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board (ILOSLRB) to prevent potential flooding on Lake Ontario, had little effect on lake levels but impacted more than $80 million worth of shipping business.
CMC is advocating that the U.S. and Canadian governments ensure that water level management leads to safe and continued navigation on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System and that two industry representatives (one CDN, one U.S.) be appointed on the ILOSLRB to ensure that infrastructure ownership and commercial users are part of the decision-making process for outflow levels through the Moses-Saunders dam.
While the St. Lawrence Seaway has up to 50% capacity to do more with its existing locks system, there are many areas where Canadian and U.S. government funding in port and waterway infrastructure would be beneficial — from shoreside container handling equipment and additional warehousing space to improving multi-modal connections, digitalization and data sharing. These investments ensure that our national transportation networks are as optimized and as efficient as possible and offer opportunities for industries to improve their cost-competitiveness, which ultimately leads to growth for the whole economy.
Government Services Must Modernize Along With the Private Sector
Finally, it’s not enough for the private sector to be as efficient as possible if that is not matched in our government services which are ultimately paid for through fees and add costs to the overall transportation bill.
The Chamber will continue to advocate for adequate funding to build new U.S. Coast Guard icebreaking assets to replace its aging fleet in the Great Lakes (which even this past year continued to break down and be out of service for repairs), and to support the Canadian Coast Guard’s plan to have interim retrofitted international icebreakers while new ones are constructed in Canada in the longer term.
With global inflation and the exponential costs of installing ballast water treatment systems over the coming years, it will also be more important than ever to ensure that government-mandated pilotage services consider today’s technology, make more effective use of risk assessments and improve efficiency and cost effectiveness.
Politicians may feel under pressure and at the sharp end of a frustrated populace, but we see this as a huge opportunity. The public understands the real value of commercial transportation — a sector that has largely been unseen and rarely thought about.
This is the time for governments to work alongside industry to innovate, invest and create smart solutions that boost supply chain resiliency, help reduce the future impacts of climate change and at the same time provide our businesses best-in-class transportation systems that give them the edge in a global arena.
The G3 Marquis transits the Welland Canal. Photo Credit: Bill Salton Photography
About the Chamber of Marine Commerce:
The Chamber of Marine Commerce is a bi-national association that represents more than 100 marine industry stakeholders including major Canadian and American shippers, ports, terminals and marine service providers, as well as domestic and international ship owners. The Chamber advocates for safe, sustainable, harmonized and competitive policy and regulation that recognizes the marine transportation system’s significant advantages in the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence, Coastal and Arctic regions.