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Keeping vital supply lines open

Editor’s note: While most Canadians are locked down during the Coronavirus pandemic the Canadian goods movement industry keeps on supplying Canadians with food and other necessities as well as shipping Canadian products to foreign markets. Here is a story from the Marine Chamber of Commerce about how Great Lakes ships are coping with the pandemic while performing an essential service.

Aboard the CSL Assiniboine, the crew of 22 are hard at work delivering Western Prairie grain from the Port of Thunder Bay.  As a domestic Laker, the vessel sails within the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region and on this particular trip will transport canola to Quebec, where it will be transloaded onto an ocean-going vessel to be exported overseas.  Grain has been in high demand across the world as consumers and countries stock up on food staples during the pandemic.

When the crew boarded at the end of March to start the season, ship owner Canada Steamship Lines (CSL) had already created a COVID-19 taskforce, to ensure the safety of the crew and continue safe operations for their customers. 

All crew and any essential workers that board a vessel go through a comprehensive pre-screening questionnaire developed by FutureCare.  Once onboard, the crew follow new procedures for sanitizing and social distancing. Shore leave is minimal, only for special circumstances like a medical appointment. Policies are being regularly updated as the situation evolves.

“I think the company has handled things really well,” says Captain Jim Ryan. “I believe these protocols are really keeping us safe.  You could sense at the beginning that everybody was worried about the situation.  But we’ve all come together as a crew and followed the practices, hand-washing, social distancing. Everyone feels pretty safe on board.”

Capt. Jim Ryan, CSL Assiniboine

As a self-unloader, the CSL Assiniboine is able to load or unload its cargo mechanically without any interaction with port personnel. And CSL is providing crew members with care packages containing hygiene products and essentials to make up for the lack of shore leave.

“If I need something in the shop, I know I’m set. The company is sending us extra things, giving us treats with the groceries.  Everything helps,” says Captain Ryan.

While it may sound lonely, crew members – who are from all parts of Canada – are able to keep in touch with their families and friends through personal cell phones, ship computers, and the ship’s satellite phones if they are out of cell range. At the onset of the crisis, CSL also created a series of new communication channels including daily email newsletters, a dedicated webpage and private Facebook group to support crews and families, and online resources through CSL’s intranet.

“The crew always has the ability to reach their family. I Facetime all the time with my wife and puppy dog,” says Captain Ryan, who is from Coley’s Point, Newfoundland. “I love my job, I love my crew. Everybody is doing 100% to get through this situation and that makes me really proud.”

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