Ships to stop on the St. Lawrence river

Des navires à l’arrêt sur le Saint-Laurent

Photo: Alexander Shields The Duty
Since a few days already, ships are stopped on the St. Lawrence river off Trois-Pistoles.

Unusual phenomenon on the St. Lawrence river : several commercial vessels, including oil tankers, had to drop anchor along this important waterway, some for several days. The highest concentration is located near the marine park of Saguenay — Saint-Laurent, has found The Duty. A situation that would be linked to the impact of the current crisis.

The commercial vessels that ascend or descend the course of the St. Lawrence can stop at different ” stations anchor “. Some of them are currently very busy, as according to information compiled by The Duty in the last few days from the automatic identification System (AIS, in English), which allows you to locate vessels in real time.

Last Sunday, in a sector of the estuary designated as the anchor of ” Lashings “, which is located between Trois-Pistoles and Rimouski, we had eight ships, including three tankers (with a capacity average of a little over 300,000 barrels each). Three days later, on Tuesday, there were still seven, including the same three oil tankers. These were still present on Wednesday, in company with seven other vessels of types involving iron ore or cargo ships. Thursday, there were still eight vessels to the position of the anchor, located about five kilometres from the south shore of the St. Lawrence river that can accommodate 15 at most.

Professor emeritus at the Institut des sciences de la mer de Rimouski, Émilien Pelletier knows this site anchor, which is usually used by vessels that need to make repairs or await orders of road “. But it is “very rare” to see so many ships, ” especially the oil “. According to him, it is likely that these judgments of oil are linked to an overabundance of crude oil, particularly in the facilities of the refineries in the province.

Specialist in marine ecotoxicology, Mr. Pelletier believes, however, that the risk of a spill would not be significant. “I don’t see too many environmental risks, but the more boats waiting or in transit, the greater the danger of incidents may increase “.

One thing is for certain, this site anchor currently very busy is located in an area that is frequented assiduously by the belugas of the St. Lawrence. This area, located a few kilometres from the boundaries of the marine park of Saguenay — Saint-Laurent, is part of “critical habitat” of the species, and it is used by females and their young, says the scientific director of Group for research and education on marine mammals, Robert Michaud.

Oil to stop

The area of the Lashings is not the only one to be very much in demand these days for the mooring of vessels on the St. Lawrence river. In the area of anchoring of Sorel, there were Thursday, four bulk carriers anchored in the river. We also saw other ships, which stop at various places over the last few days. At the dock facilities of the Port of Montreal, there were Thursday, seven oil tankers.

Transport Canada confirmed the temporary shutdown of oil in the area of the Lashings, in the estuary. These vessels ” are not used to store crude oil at sea “, however, argues the ministry. At a time when three tankers were present, two were from Montreal, and a third was ” waiting for another ship, which will transfer cargo to complete loading “.

The positions of anchor, adds Transport Canada, ” are used in particular in the event of problems with the ship, failure, difficulty to maneuver, the need to perform a repair or maintenance, an emergency, poor weather conditions, a transfer of cargo, waiting for a place in a port of destination, or in the event of adverse tide “.

The ministry responsible for the management of maritime traffic in Canada, however, is not able to clarify the reasons that motivate the owners to stop their ships to a position as anchor on the course of the St. Lawrence. “Even if Transport Canada is able to confirm the type and location of vessels that are in canadian waters, ships can be at anchor or at the dock for several reasons, including the availability of their next port of call “, we are told by e-mail.

Transport Canada has suggested contacting the companies concerned. The Duty has thus contacted three companies that operate ships that remained stationary for the last few days, two of which the ships are registered in countries known for their ” flags of convenience “. No one has answered our questions.


Is it that the presence of oil at the stop on the St. Lawrence river is related to the activities or of the storage capacity of the refineries in Lévis (Valero), and Montreal (Suncor) ? At Suncor, we refuse to give away details on the petroleum products arriving or departing facilities in the east of Montreal.

At Valero, it is said to have “nothing special” in terms of arrivals and departures of vessels. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we actually had to gradually adjust the production to the falling demand “, clarifies the director of public and government Affairs, Marina Binotto.

The Port of Montreal, stated that the decision to stop a vessel at anchor on the St. Lawrence is not the responsibility of port authorities. “This is a decision that belongs to the commander of the ship. We cannot comment on or assume for each of the ships of the reasons that they have to anchor in these locations, ” wrote Mélanie Nadeau, director of communications at the Montreal port Authority. She added that the vessels which are at anchor on the St. Lawrence river, waiting to resume their journey, may be destined for another port located along the seaway.

At the Port of Quebec, it indicates that the normal activities are continuing ” with a slowdown of a certain volume of liquid bulk, in particular because of the drop in air traffic and motorway “.

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