THUNDER BAY – A ceremony welcoming the first ocean-going vessel of the year took on a special resonance as members of the local Ukrainian community honoured the ship’s Ukrainian crew.
Captain Oleg Gerasymchuk and first engineer Igor Matsala were greeted with bread and flowers by members of the local Ukrainian community.
The ship made it into harbour just before 8:30 a.m. Monday after dropping off steel from Argentina in Sault Ste. Marie.
The crew faced heavy weather on the ocean, but good conditions coming through the Great Lakes, he said
The whole crew hails from the Odessa region of Ukraine, he said. The situation in their home country is weighing heavily on the crew’s spirits, he said, but they’re staying focused on doing their jobs.
The vessel, owned by Montreal-based Canfornav, was in Thunder Bay loading up with grain and oats, which will be transported to Puerto Rico.
Tim Heney, CEO of the Thunder Bay Port Authority, called the annual ceremony a meaningful tradition made more touching by the special welcome offered to the crew.
“The seaway was built to bring an ocean vessel this far inland, and it kind of symbolizes the link to the rest of the world for Thunder Bay.”
The April 18 start to the salty season is about average for Thunder Bay, he said. The season typically wraps up in December.
“The ice conditions weren’t as bad as people might have thought after the winter we had,” he reported. “Things are now operating smoothly.”
The port has attracted an average of 117 ocean-going vessels annually over the past five years.
The mix of what those ships carry back with them may look a little different due to the armed conflict.
Heney expects to see some ships that would typically move grain carrying potash shipments instead, with global markets turning to Saskatchewan to replace production normally found in Ukraine.
Thunder Bay is the only loading point for potash on the Great Lakes, he said.
A poor harvest on the prairies last year is also likely to limit grain shipments at a time when the Russian invasion of Ukraine has disrupted supply.
“We serve the same markets as the Ukraine from here – Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa,” Heney explained. “Some of those countries used to get most of their grain from Ukraine, so there’ll be a demand for sure. Whether there’s a supply to serve it is another point.”