THUNDER BAY -- Better late than never, says CEO Tim Heney.
On Tuesday the CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority presented MV Algoma Enterprise Capt. Edward Seward with a ceremonial top hat, a symbolic annual gesture recognizing the first ship to arrive in the city.
This year was particularly harsh, Seward said, thick chunks of ice surrounding his 730-foot ship berthed at Richardson’s Current River terminal.
What’s normally a three-day journey from Port Colborne, Ont. took the vessel more than two weeks to complete, ice breakers preceding her every step of the way.
Seward said it was a harrowing jaunt.
“It’s great to be here in port, but it’s really, really hard out there on the ice,” Seward said. “It’s tough going. Without the icebreakers we never would have made it.”
The ice poses all sorts of risks to ships, the Titanic a perfect example of the dangers of springtime travel. But while icebergs aren’t really a danger on Lake Superior, make no mistake Seward said, ice can be treacherous.
“If you’re going too fast through the ice you can hit it and fracture the hull,” he said.
It’s been a long, hard winter, he added, and his crew is anxious to get the over-supply of grain, moving.
“I’ve been at this for 40 years this year and this is the worst I’ve seen the ice conditions,” he said.
For Heney, it’s a relief to finally start to see movement on the water.
Faced with ice that was three or four feet thick in places, he said the start of the 2014 shipping season is one for the record books.
“It’s been a tough season opening for sure,” he said. “It’s probably the latest opening ever at this point. But it’s good to see it opening finally and things are starting to move.”
Late start or not, he’s expecting it to be a good shipping year.
A backlog of grain on the prairies has to be moved, and Heney is counting on some of it finding its way to Thunder Bay.
He estimated the port is worth about $300 million to the local economy.
“This year there’s a lot of economic interest from western Canada. This elevator, in particular, if this ship hadn’t shown up, is pretty well full. So they're relieved to be putting grain on the ship and getting things circulating.”
Heney added there are about 20 lakers on their way to Thunder Bay. The first of about 10 salt-water vessels scheduled to arrive is expected sometime next week.