With continued strong growth anticipated in maritime trade with Asia, Canadian ports in British Columbia on Canada’s West Coast are jockeying for position to increase market share. Various projects are underway or on the radar screen for capacity expansions in such key sectors as container and breakbulk facilities. In its latest container forecast for the West Coast of Canada, UK-based Ocean Shipping Consultants (OSC) took into consideration emerging global economic trends, including a slowdown in China. But it concluded, nevertheless, that container demand through the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Prince Rupert could attain 7.5 million TEU by 2030, or about double the current box volume of two Canadian ports which are clearly seeking to grab business away from US Pacific Northwest competitors.
According to OSC, the container trade through the West Coast of Canada will progress at an annual compound rate of about 4% - thereby reinforcing the need for planned increases through the existing Deltaport and Centerm terminals in Vancouver and Fairview Terminal in Prince Rupert operated by DP World. The report also asserts that Vancouver’s proposed giant Terminal 2 project on Roberts Bank (hotly contested by environmental activists in the region) will be needed by the mid-2020s.
Port of Vancouver
The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority recently reported that overall volume at Canada’s largest port in 2016 decreased slightly to 136 million metric tons of cargo, down 1.8% from 2015. Sectors experiencing declines were offset by others that hit new records, including the bulk grain sector.
“One of our biggest strengths has been, and continues to be, the port’s ability to accommodate the most diversified range of cargo of any port in North America,” said Robin Silvester, president and chief executive officer of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. “Since 2013, the Port of Vancouver has experienced its fourth consecutive year of traffic volumes over 1.35 million-tons, despite global economic downturns.”
Last year was the Port of Vancouver’s third consecutive year of record volumes in bulk grain and its fifth year of an upward trend. Bulk grain export volumes through the port increased 1.3% from 2015, to reach 21.8 million metric tons in 2016. Strong global demand for Canadian agriculture was met with a bumper crop in Canada and increased exports of grain through the Port of Vancouver.
Containerized exports increased by 3.3% due to growth in woodpulp, grain and food and agri-product shipments. This increase was offset by a 2.4% decline in loaded import containers, partly due to the return of some traffic to U.S. west coast ports after their 2015 labor dispute, leading to a flat result in overall laden container volumes for 2016. Total box volume measured in TEUs declined by 4 per cent to 2.93 million units.
The Port of Vancouver regards Terminal 2 as a critical undertaking in order to compete for market share with other West Coast ports, including US ports, to accommodate the mega box ships now being deployed on the Transpacific trades with Asia.
A three-berth terminal at Roberts Bank would add 2.4 million TEU to the capacity of Canada’s largest port. However, one environmental lobby group especially, called Against Port Expansion in the Fraser Estuary (APE), has opposed the project vigorously on the grounds of severe potential damage to the area’s unique marine ecosystem encompassing some half a million birds passing through.
The port’s environmental assessment statement comprises numerous mitigation measures. A federal government-appointed independent three-member panel is expected to produce a report by the coming fall.
Worthy of note, a small remote port located on a deepwater ocean inlet on Vancouver Island, Port Alberni, is trying to shake things up in a big way with an ambitious, futuristic plan unveiled several years ago (with so far no federal funding support) to build a huge automated terminal that would service vessels from barges of all sizes to 22,000-TEU container ships. It has been named the Port Alberni Transshipment Hub (PATH).
With missionary zeal, port chief executive Zoran Knezevic has been affirming that “the merits of PATH speak for themselves.”
The facility would unload containers from large ocean vessels and transfer them to barges or small feeder ships for delivery to customers at ports on the West Coast. PATH would serve distribution centers mainly situated along the banks of the Fraser River in the Greater Vancouver area via barging (consequently alleviating road congestion at the same time).
To say, meanwhile, that things are happening thick and fast these days at the northern BC deepwater Port of Prince Rupert, which offers notably the fastest transit times (via the Great Circle Route) between the West Coast of North America and Southeast Asia, is no understatement.
Since undergoing major transformation and revival in the past decade, the long-dormant and bulk-oriented port has arguably become the fast-growing container port on the continent.
Indeed, the person credited with this metamorphosis, Don Krusel, president and CEO, recalled earlier this spring to local business leaders how Prince Rupert was for years “cursed by history” – though still blessed by geography. “We are now both blessed by geography and blessed by history.” Then, to underline the progress, he made this prediction: “Today, we are the third largest container port in the country and before the next 10 years, we will overtake Montreal as the second largest container port in the country.” (Last year, Prince Rupert handled 736,000 TEU, roughly half of Montreal’s throughput.)
Last December, the port and DP World announced a significant milestone in the ongoing expansion of Fairview Container Terminal. Phase ll of the C$300 million project is more than 75% complete and on schedule to boost annual capacity to 1.35 million TEU by the third quarter of 2017. Eventually, the terminal served by CN’s network reaching major markets in Canada and the United States is designed to handle 2.5 million TEU.
Next milestone will be the arrival expected later this spring of three Malacca-max dock gantry cranes. Each crane is equipped with a reach of 25 containers and will be capable of working the behemoths with carrying capacity of 20,000-plus TEU.
As part of the Gateway 2020 blueprint, the port is also giving emphasis to cargo diversification. In this regard, it signed a feasibility agreement with SSA Marine and its wholly-owned subsidiary Western Stevedoring to explore the viability of a breakbulk and bulk import/export terminal on the south shore of Kaien Island. The 80-hectare facility in an area which is already home to several small bulk terminals would be adjacent to CN’s mainline.
In another major initiative, this spring, the Port of Prince Rupert announced an expansion project for containerized cargo on Ridley Island that will help crops from the Canadian agricultural industry reach international markets while broadening intermodal logistics capacities at the Port of Prince Rupert.
Ray-Mont Logistics is developing an integrated logistics and container loading operation – slated for completion this coming fall - at the south end of the Ridley Island Industrial Site on the recently-constructed Road, Rail and Utility Corridor.
The operation will involve pulses and cereals (such as lentils, peas, beans, soybeans, flax, and wheat) as well as other specialty agricultural crops transported in hopper cars by rail from Western and Central Canada and the US Midwest. The cargo will be transferred to ocean containers for export via the Fairview Container Terminal.
This initiative has elicited positive response from shipping lines calling at Prince Rupert. “This is welcome news,” said a spokesperson for MSC, which has increased its transpacific services to Prince Rupert following last year’s demise of Hanjin.
The largest port on Vancouver Island, Nanaimo has been seeing steady growth in recent years. Total throughput in 2016 of 5.4 million tons represented a healthy spike from the 2015 volume of 4.4 million tons. And since 2010, the port has added 3 million tons to its overall volume.
The 2016 increase was chiefly due to a doubling of the number of raw log ships handled at the Assembly Wharf Terminal and a 21% jump in container cargo to 43,400 TEU.
Bernie Dumas, president and CEO of the Nanaimo Port Authority, notes that the port has invested nearly C$4 million in infrastructure over the past two years and in a mobile crane to meet the increased flow of ocean containers. “Further shortsea investments are planned at our Duke Point Terminal in the coming years to address the international cargo needs of Vancouver Island.”