By Leo Ryan, AJOT

Launched a couple of years ago, the great offensive encouraged by both the US and Canadian federal transport authorities to expand shortsea shipping on the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence waterway continues. Recent positive initiatives point to a more promising future.

Although shortsea activity remains leagues behind comparable developments in Europe, new services have been launched or planned despite the constant presence of ice-infested waters in winter (not the case in Europe’s vast inland network) and a 9-month shipping season on the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Shortsea shipping is generally defined as the movement of cargo (and passengers) by water along coastlines or within lakes and river systems without crossing an ocean. Supporters in North America argue that its increased use would significantly reduce road congestion and pollution, notably around such busy corridors as Highway 401 leading to Toronto, Canada’s leading commercial and financial center.

One Seaway-sized vessel can remove an estimated 870 trucks off the roads, suggest the US and Canadian Seaway agencies in their current Highway H2O campaign.

Similar reasoning comes from advocates in Europe, where mounting road congestion is inducing some shippers to move away from just-in-time delivery concepts to focus more heavily on reliability. In Britain, such congestion is said to be causing one in nine freight deliveries to arrive late.

The past few months have seen the St. Lawrence River port of Trois-Rivi’res, located mid-way between Montreal and Quebec City, become the focal point of two new shortsea services.

In the Spring, Aluminerie Alouette, in Sept-Iles, began to ship ingots by barge to a distribution center in Trois-Rivi’res. Total volume, carried by a specially-designed barge by Ontario-based McKeil Marine, could attain 250,000 tons by the end of this year.

The other service involves pulp and paper producer Kruger Inc., shipping some 400,000 tons of green wood chips, using a barge operated by Quebec City by barge to Trois-Rivi’res. From Trois-Rivi’res, the wood chips are carried by truck to two mills where they are transformed into newsprint.

Together, these two services are expected to eliminate up to 40,000 trips by trucks on Highway 138, one of Quebec’s busiest road corridors.

“They are an extraordinary platform for our port, which is well adapted for this kind of niche market,” says Robert Masson, President and CEO of the Trois-Rivi’res Port Authority. “We are also well located for intermodal connections.”

On the Great Lakes, a Toronto-Rochester fast ferry service, which had run into financial problems last year, was revived in June.

More significant from a cargo point of view are two shortsea shipping projects on the Great Lakes. Marketed under the name of MarineLink, the commercial viability of the projects will soon be determined by a market assessment study. An industry source indicated that a late 2006 kick-off date is being considered.

Seaway Marine Transport, which manages the biggest Canadian fleet on the Great Lakes, has joined forces with several partners to develop services to carry truck trailers on ferries crossing Lake Ontario from Hamilton, Ontario to Oswego, NY, and crossing Lake Erie from Nanticoke, Ontario to Erie, Pennsylvania. The former service would deploy two vessels and the latter would use one vessel making a daily round trip.

A big booster of shortsea initiatives, Keith Robson, President and CEO of the Hamilton Port Authority sees such services helping to relieve traffic congestion between Ontario and the US border.

Mission promotes container services

Robson was among the participants in a one week trade mission to the United Kingdom and Germany between October 17 and October 22 that was organized by the Washington-based St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation and Canada’s St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC).

Over the past few months, the Port of Hamilton has been lobbying vessel operators in Canada and a