The Lake Huron shoreline is filled with icy floes and the summer’s ship-watching seems far away. Captain Sikander Kazi’s ship, The Federal Baltic, was the last vessel to leave Goderich last year to navigate through the locks and reach the Atlantic Ocean before freeze up. The Federal Baltic left December 12 with soybeans in five of its six holds.
Bonnie Sitter had a chance to interview the Captain before shipping season ended. This is what she learned:
Soybeans grown in Ontario being shipped to Europe sounded like an interesting story to investigate. It’s a complicated journey that involves three great waterways: the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Atlantic Ocean.
The migration begins when the beans are harvested and taken to the elevators at the Port of Goderich. The beans are stored, waiting for the contracted ship to arrive and begin the journey to the purchaser. Contracts are signed and custom papers organized. Even the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is involved to inspect and clear the ship and elevator to be free of weevils and beetles.
The Federal Baltic, a 200-metre long ship that was built in Japan in 2015, has Captain Sikander Kazi in charge. The captain, when interviewed, told me that being a mariner is pretty much a “family affair.”
Kazi’s grandfather was in the Royal Navy and his younger brother and two cousins are mariners as well. It is evident that Captain Kazi is enthusiastic and loves what he does! His 29-year career has taken him many places and although he has been coming to the Great Lakes since 1998 this trip is only his second into Goderich.
Kazi’s ship needed to leave before the risk of the shipping locks freezing. That usually happens about December 22. As the date approaches the temperatures in the locks are closely monitored. No one wants to be stuck in a Great Lakes port for the winter.
That’s only 10 days away and loading in Goderich was shut down because of the snow and wind conditions. Moisture entering the holds would spoil the soybeans and no chances are taken.
This will, of course, delay the departure. Weather is always a big concern and winds and waves are serious business. For example the maximum wind strength is 20 knots to enter or leave the Goderich harbour. Three tug boats are hired to guide the ship in and out of the port. Great Lakes marine pilots are mandatory for every ship that enters and leaves the Seaway and Great Lakes.
Normally it takes about 38 hours to load the soybeans. As the ship is loaded, the ballast, which is water, is released. The ballast can not be allowed to freeze and this time of year it is checked regularly. When the 21,220 metric tonnes of beans are loaded, and the weather is favourable, the soybeans will be on their way to Ghent, Belgium. The ship can carry more weight but the draft of the ship can be a maximum of 8.08 meters to go through the locks. After Montreal, 8,700 metric tonnes of granulated nickel matte will be loaded at the port of Sorel. With all the holds full, the Atlantic crossing begins. The nickel matte is delivered to Norway enroute to Belgium.
When asked about how things are changing in the shipping industry, Captain Kazi talked about how the North Atlantic Right Whales are now being seen in the Anticosti and Magdalen Islands area and collisions with ships are a big concern. In previous years, the whales were concentrated in the Saguenay River area. The ships are reducing speed in an effort to avoid tragic collisions. Ice bergs are traveling further south and in March of this year more than 400 were spotted in one week in the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic forcing ships to divert their routes by hundreds of kilometers. Captain Kazi commented on the number of ice bergs seen in the Grand Banks area off the coast of Newfoundland.
The crew of more than 20, all of whom are from India, will have approximately five months off the water after this job. The ship will get another captain and crew and continue to carry bulk cargo throughout the world. ◊