Monday, August 27, 2018

Viking Invasion - updated

The three Norwegian icebreaking tug/suppliers purchased by the Canadian government arrived in Quebec today. They sailed in company up the St.Lawrence this morning, in and out of fog for much of the way.

Thor Viking upbound on the St.Lawrence this morning, found a clear patch off my place.

The lead vessel, Balder Viking was barely visible from my vantage points, with only its mast top showing. The second, Vidar Viking revealed itself somewhat, while passing between Ile-aux-Coudres and St-Joseph-de-la-Rive.

and the third, Thor Viking did show itself again as it passed through billowing fog,

Thor Viking  has a container on deck, probably carrying spares and other gear.

On August 10, the Canadian government announced that it had purchased the the three sister vessels from the ailing Norwegian company Viking Supply Ships AS and had awarded a $610mn contract* to Davie Quebec to refit the boats for service with the Canadian Coast Guard, thus protecting 200 jobs at their Levis, QC shipyard.

The 13,440kW vessels, built in 2000-2001 are classed as Ice-10/ARC 7, Icebreaker, Anchor Handling Tug Suppliers and are intended to fill the large gap in the CCG's icebreaking capability until new ships are built. The current aging fleet is scheduled for mid-life refits in turn, reducing the CCG's arctic and St.Lawrence capabilities.

The Viking ships left Landskrona, Sweden on the day of the government announcement. In the same announcement Ottawa revealed that it will permit Davie to bid on future Coast Guard and RCN contracts, even though it is not included in the national shipbuilding strategy program.

Quebec is in the early stages of a provincial election where the sitting Liberals are fighting an uphill battle. The federal Liberals, in power in Ottawa, may get more credit for making this deal happen, but it will be interesting to see how the arrival plays out in the press, if not the voter's minds.

As for the national shipbuilding program, one of the two designated shipyards, Seaspan, is supposed to build the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent replacement, but neither it nor Irving Shipbuilding (Halifax Shipyard)  have the capability of building needed Coast Guard icebreaker replacements unless they interrupt their navy and other government work, or add capacity. When Davie has the capability immediately available, it seems entirely reasonable that they should be eligible for the work.

It does bring into question what use the navy's Arctic Offshore Patrol vessels will be. Halifax Shipyard is building the half dozen of these vessels that the previous federal government decided it needed to protect arctic sovereignty (seasonally). Pundits claim the ships are too light for icebreaking and to heavy for patrol work, so it seems unlikely that they will be of much help to the CCG except in case of emergency.

Emergencies do happen. The grounding of the research / cruise ship Akademik Ioffe last week in the high arctic, required the evacuation of passengers, their luggage and non-essential crew. Fortunately conditions were not dire, the ship was not in peril and CCGS Pierre Radisson was near enough to be of assistance. That may not always be the case unless the CCG can increase its presence.

The fog cleared by the time the trio arrived off Quebec City later in the day August 27 where they conducted a "sail past"  off the Coast Guard Agency. CCG helo(s) filmed the arrival and there was considerable French language media coverage.

Meanwhile at the same CCG dock the heavy icebreaker CCGS Des Groseilliers and the light icebreaker CCGS Martha L. Black are in the midst of Vessel Life Extensions (VLE) underlining the need for fleet upgrades. Also the heavy icebreaker CCGS Terry Fox sailed from the Port Weller Dry Dock in St.Catharines, ON (it was downbound August 28). 

* The $610 mn contract with Davie includes the approximate $353.5 mn purchase price of the ships. One ship will be available for winter 2018-2019 and the other two for summer 2019.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

G3 Global Grain Group

The Canadian Wheat Board was the sole purchaser of Canadian prairie grain, with profits handed back to the farmers. In 2012 the government opened the market, from "single desk", renaming the Board the CWB and in 2015 a majority interest was sold to private industry. Farmers retained a 49.1% interest in the new entity, named G3 for Global Grain Growers.

Algoma operates the Equinox class laker G3 Marquis for G3. It was orginally named CWB Marquis. It brings grain down from the Lakes and returns upbound with iron ore.
The 50.1% majority in G3 is held by a joint venture of Bunge Canada and SALIC. SALIC is the Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Company. In 2016 SALIC bought half of Bunge's interest, increasing its stake from 49% to 75% of the joint venture (resulting in a 37.575% holding in G3)

When Canada offended Saudi sensibilities by criticizing its human rights record, Saudi Arabia announced it would no longer import Canadian grain and would sell all its Canadian investments "no matter the cost". This obviously raises concerns about the future of G3. To complicate matters it is understood that ownership of Bunge may be in play, with an unsolicited acquisition offer from ADM (Archers Daniel Midland). No official comment has been made on the situation.

G3 Marquis unloading a the G3 Quebec City terminal.
G3 owns a slew of elevators on the prairies and in Quebec and port terminals in Thunder Bay, Trois-Rivières and Quebec City, and is building a new port terminal in North Vancouver in partnership with Western Stevedoring. However with the formation of CWB and G3 the Port of Churchill lost its source of cargo. Halifax however was not particularly affected since its export grain traffic is negligible.

Part of the huge Quebec City terminal.
It is business as usual in Quebec City as far as I can tell, with a constant stream of lakers bringing in grain, and saltwater ships loading for export.

Algoma Equinox unloading by means of the two travelling grain legs. The rail mounted towers  move along the length of the ship to reach the holds.

Once the legs have removed most of the cargo, front end loaders move the remainder to picked up by pneumatic tubes. Hand sweeping follows.
Note the wheels under the tower at left. 

There has been no official comment on the future of G3 and participation by SALIC.

With no one to interview, journalists had to satisfy themselves with general views of the Quebec facility, and the Trillium class CSL St-Laurent unloading.


Oceanex Connaigra

The container RoRo ship Oceanex Connaigra suffered a fire in its cargo hold at 22:30 hrs August 16. The ship was on its regular weekly run from St.John's to Montreal when the fire broke out near Bécancour, QC.

 Oceanex Connaigra was built in 2013 in Flensburg, Germany, and is the largest Canadian ConRo ship. With a capacity of 1300 TEU, the ice class vessel maintains a year round weekly schedule.

According to a press report the ship put into Trois-Rivières at 05:30 hrs the next morning where local firefighters extinguished the fire. The ship was able to resume its voyage by 10:16 hrs.

I have not been able to locate more detail than this, but from the description the fire would not seem to have been serious, and had minimal effect on the ship's schedule. Oceanex maintains a 99% reliability on its weekly services to Newfoundland.

Oceanex operates Oceanex Connaigra and Oceanex Avalon on the Montreal / St.John's service and Oceanex Sanderling on the Halifax / St.John's.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Umiavut aground - update

The Canadian flag cargo ship Umiavut ran out of the channel at the mouth of Lac-St-Pierre, a few miles west of Trois-Rivieres, QC, on August 12. If a ship is to run aground it is always very helpful to have your own tugs and lighterage barges on board to assist in re-floating.

This was certainly the case since the ship is fully equipped to deliver cargoes to the far north, and was soon at work moving cargo to the barges. It may also have received some assistance from a sister ship early in this morning. Unfortunately the ship was returning from the north, and only had empty containers on board, so a lot of lightering may be necessary to reduce its draft.

By late afternoon the tug Clovis T had arrived from Quebec City and the Ocean Intrepide from Montreal, and the latter had a very long towing line stretched out for a floating attempt.

The lighterage tug Ukalik was on its way back from Trois-Rivieres, possibly to assist or to take off more cargo, and later the tug Qimmik returned.

By late evening the two large tugs were on their way back to their home ports, and the ship does not appear to have changed position.

Update #1:
The first refloating attempt was not successful and more lightering will be needed. The small tugs have been busy transferring barge loads to the Port of Trois-Rivières all day August 15, and a second attempt may take place August 16.

The tugs Océan Clovis T. from Quebec and Océan Intrepide from Montreal were on route to the scene early August 16.

Update #2: (revised)
 The ship was freed at about noon time Auguste 16 and is under tow of Océan Intrepide, with Océan Clovis T on a stern line, for Valleyfield to Trois-Rivières.

The ship's own lighterage tugs Ukalik and Qimmik are headed for Trois-Rivières.


Thursday, August 9, 2018

IT Intrepid - something different

The cable ship IT Intrepid sailed from Halifax August 6 and was upbound on the St.Lawrence this morning (August 9)(and in thick fog) en route to another cable assignment, but with an unusual twist.

Built in 1989 as Sir Eric Sharp the veteran ship has laid, maintained and repaired subsea cables in many parts of the world, but this may be first in fresh water.  Owners IT International Telecom Canada Inc have contracted by Crosslake Fibre to lay 80 km of fibreoptic cable between Toronto, ON and Wilson, NY.  The ship was granted a Coasting Licence to carry out about 4 days of work in Canadian waters, between August 15 and September.

The work will consist of a pre-lay grapnel run to clear the proposed path of any debris such as old nets, chains, wires or even wrecks. Once the route is clear, the ship will deploy an ROV that is in fact a tracked vehicle that is controlled from the ship. The vehicle will trench, place and bury the cable one meter deep in the lake bed. The sub-sea portion will connect with land cable at Ashbridge Bay Park in Toronto and in New York State will also run overland connect to Buffalo.

IT Intrepid , flying the Barbados flag, is nominally based in Halifax, but generally works throughout the North Atlantic. It has carried its present name since 2005 and has been mentioned several times in the past in this blog. Just enter the name "IT Intrepid" in the search box, at left, and those previous references will pop up.

For more information on the cable project, see the application to the Canadian Transportation Agency at:


Friday, August 3, 2018

Clarke Cashes In

Media reports that Halifax-based Clarke Inc has cashed in on its last remaining movable asset. By increasing its loan from $900,000 to $4 million Clarke now has some cash to spend but no immediate plans to spend it.

 The Clarke flag still flies on one ship.

Once the largest coastal shipping operator on the Lower St.Lawrence River, Clarke has been down to one ship for many years, the ferry Trans St-Laurent. I crossed the St.Lawrence on that ferry yesterday from Rivière-du-Loup to St-Siméon as I do several times each year.

Not a great beauty, Trans  St-Laurent has been a fixture on the river for five decades.

It has been operating under a series of two year contracts with Société de Traversiers du Quebec (STQ). That crown corporation, established in 1973, to operate all the major ferry services in the Province of Quebec, took over ownership of nearly a dozen ferries crossing the river at such locations as Sorel / St. Ignace-de-Loyola,  Quebec City / Lévis, Montmagny / Ile-aux-Grues,  St-Joseph-de-la-Rive / Ile-aux-Coudres, Baie-Ste-Catherine / Tadoussac, and Baie Comeau /Godbout / Matane - all but Trans St-Laurent .

Trans St-Laurent was built in 1963 and rumours that it will be replaced have been rife for years. It is nothing less than amazing that the ship is still operating at its age, but it continues to provide reliable service with up to four trips per day. It shuts down in January and February, due to winter conditions, but there has been pressure to make the service year round.

There has been a study for a new ferry, conducted by STQ, but it is not clear if that will be an STQ-owned vessel, however it seems likely that it is time for a change. Trans-St-Laurent has a capacity of 400 passengers and up to 100 vehicles. Yesterday on my crossing however there was one semi, several RVs (one towing a car) and at least three trucks with travel trailers, a few motorcycles and some pedestrians.The rest of the car deck and the two portable suspended decks were stuffed to the gills with cars.

Clarke Inc sold its large trucking operation to TransForce in 2013, and is now largely an investment company.

Truckfax claim to fame - they used one of my pictures on this billboard at the entrance to the Fairview Cove container terminal, well positioned so that every truck driver leaving the facility could not miss it.