A busy port makes for a busy agent

March 2023

Thunder Bay’s crucial and strategic location at the head of the Great Lakes, situated in the middle of North America, accentuates the community’s distinction as a unique economic hub providing the region with vast economic opportunities. The port sees over 300 lake vessels and up to 150 saltwater ships in a nine and half month shipping season. With that comes a robust trade in grain, coal, and potash shipments to eastern Canada and exports to countries around the world. In recent years, the port has also garnered an excellent reputation in handling inbound special project cargos such as windmills and steel shipments destined for industrial developments throughout Canada.

Along with exports and imported cargo, a resurgence in cruise vessel visits has put the Lake Superior port on the map as a preferred destination and embarkation point for hundreds of passengers from all over the world. There were nine voyages to Thunder Bay in 2022 and by all accounts with rave reviews by both vessel cruise ship operators and passengers alike. The trend will continue likely doubling in port calls in 2023 accelerating economic spinoffs for local businesses and the tourist trade.

With ships coming in and out of the port, vessel operators utilize the expertise of a local port agent who represents ship owners and charterers worldwide. Thunder Bay Shipping Inc. is at the forefront of such endeavors, managing every possible requirement the ships need for expeditious port operations. Once a male-dominated vocation, more and more women are crossing the boundaries to become part of the industry. We sat down with Christeann Hryb/Agency Representative with Thunder Bay Shipping Inc. for her perspective on port activities.

Q. What responsibilities do you have as the vessel agent?

A. Port Agents are appointed by either the owner or charterer of the vessel. They are referred to as the ‘principal’. Before the ship arrives, a great deal of shore-based activity must take place to insure the arrival and departure are coordinated in the most efficient and problem-free manner. This activity is facilitated by the port agent who serves as the ship’s representative during the vessels stay.

We as agents attend to all the operational aspects the ship requires while in port.

We arrange pilots and tugs to guide the ship safely to their berths, line handlers to tie up the vessel to their prescribed docks, and notifying stevedores who are responsible for loading or discharging cargo are functions that the local agent performs. We also advise government agencies such as Canada Customs (CBSA), Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and Transport Canada, ensuring all necessary documentation is submitted by us on the ship’s behalf.

Q. What are some of the highlights you have experienced attending ships in the port?

A. I remember the first time, my dad, CEO of Thunder Bay Shipping Inc., took my brother David and I on a voyage to Duluth and then on another trip through the St. Lawrence Seaway, transiting Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and the Welland Canal. The experience was awesome just watching how the crew interacted as the ship sailed the so-called H2O highway. I was hooked from that point on…it was amazing!

Another highlight was welcoming the first ocean ship of the 2022 season last April. The cargo vessel Mv Blacky with her all Ukrainian crew from Odessa arrived just two months after the invasion of Ukraine. A Ukrainian delegation from Thunder Bay was gracious in offering a traditional ‘bread and salt’ presentation symbolizing ‘long life’ and ‘prosperity’. Port and city officials, along with Federal Minister Patty Hajdu gathered on the festive and solemn occasion in welcoming Captain Oleg Gerasymchuk and his crew with the traditional ‘Top-Hat’ ceremony offered each year, commemorating the opening of international shipping in the port.

Q. What do you like most about your job?

A. I’ve been fortunate to work with mariners from all over the world. Every ship is different and has a life of its own and with this comes situations that one has to deal with decisively. From arranging crew arrivals, expatriation to their home countries, scheduling doctor/dentist visits, supplying provisions and fuel - all are essential services we as agents look after. I’m also assigned as a ‘Surveyor’ for ship owners Fednav International when
steel cargoes are discharged at Keefer Terminal. Challenging as it may be,

I really have to thank my brother David who is the Operations Manager for his guidance.

Q. Cruise ship visits to Thunder Bay have recently seen a resurgence. Describe how the port may look in the next 5 to 10 years.

A. Operating as an agent, dealing with grain, potash, and general cargo certainly has been rewarding, however, working with cruise vessels has been very exciting. There were nine visits last season, two by Mv Ocean Navigator and seven by Mv Viking Octantis. It’s been amazing for me as an agent to see this venture thrive as Thunder Bay is well known as Canada’­s gateway to the west for its location as the final navigation point on the Great Lakes.

Passengers are treated to stunning views of the Sleeping Giant with visits to our waterfront district dotted with trendy restaurants and gift shops. Learning about Thunder Bay’s rich indigenous culture, tours to scenic sites like Kakabeka Falls, our ‘Niagara of the North’, and traveling by tour bus through our pristine boreal forest are popular. We are truly a hidden gem that is being discovered by hundreds of passengers worldwide. With fifteen cruise ship visits planned for 2023, Thunder Bay’s future looks bright.

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