DP World has expanded rapidly in Canada and now boasts the largest container terminal operation in the country.

A maritime industry veteran with considerable experience in international trade, Douglas Smith this summer took over the helm of DP World Canada as new CEO with the key assignment of expanding its supply chain solutions from a network that has become the largest terminal operation in the country. He has succeeded Maksim Mihic under whose stewardship DP World grew from one terminal in Vancouver (Centerm) to five with the additions of the Fraser Surrey, Nanaimo, Saint John, and Prince Rupert locations. The challenges ahead have been underscored by current trends showing declining US-bound container cargo through the Canadian West Coast ports.

Having most recently served as joint president and CEO of Mundra and Tuna Ports at Adani Ports in India, Smith made his first public address to industry circles in Canada at last September’s annual conference of the Association of Canadian Ports Authorities (ACPA) – and emphasized a pragmatic approach to expansion based on constant collaboration with stakeholders and in-depth analysis.

Centerm terminal, Port of Montreal
DP World recently completed a US$260 million expansion of its Centerm terminal in Vancouver.

“Container Specific”

As keynote speaker, Smith offered what he termed a largely “container-specific presentation” focused on maritime developments around the world and on priorities for Canada.

Looking back at the dramatic growth in global container capacity, he indicated that “20 years ago, there were 380 million TEUs, and last year the total came to 1.2 billion TEUs.” And a containership size of 4,500 TEUs is not big by today’s standards of vessels carrying 24,000 TEUs. The DP World network of over 80 terminals in 40 countries is geared to efficiently integrate into the current mega-capacity era.

With trade routes to North America changing and various supply disruptions taking place, Smith stressed the need for constant collaboration between all stakeholders to increase trade and ensure smooth cargo flows.

In an apparent reference to such waterfront labour conflicts as this past July’s docker strikes in British Columbia, he suggested that firms should in fact devote more attention to planning alternative actions in the event of “agitations in the system.”

He also asked this question: “Do we spend more time collecting data rather than using data?”

Touching on corporate thinking behind the enlargement of a terminal network, he stated: “We have to optimize everything we have before we start to expand. You can’t build a terminal in 30 days. It is not an ‘if’ question but a ‘when’ question.”

Douglas Smith
Douglas Smith courtesy of Association of Canadian Port Authorities

Developments at Five Terminals on the East and West Coasts

DP World, Smith continued, was determined to contribute to the growth of the Canadian economy through its terminals in Prince Rupert, Vancouver, Nanaimo, Fraser Surrey, and Saint John.

Earlier this year, in May, DP World celebrated the completion of the C$350 million (US$260 million) Centerm Expansion Project which increases throughput by 60% to 1.5 million TEUs annually while adding 15% to the terminal’s overall footprint.

The terminal’s environmental impact has also been reduced by adding capacity for container ships to connect to electrical shore power and converting its diesel yard cranes to electric.

An estimated 10,000 longshore and foremen employees have worked for DP World in British Columbia over the past 20 years – handling more than 20 million loaded TEUs.

At Prince Rupert in northern British Colombia, DP World and the Prince Rupert Port Authority are in the midst of a two-year study launched in February 2022 to assess the feasibility of a new container facility that would add up to 2 million TEUs of annual capacity to Canada’s third largest port to meet anticipated increased maritime trade with Asia. It would be situated south of the existing Fairview Terminal which itself is undergoing an expansion project for capacity to reach 1.8 million TEUs.

A large multi-purpose terminal located on the banks of the Fraser River in the Greater Vancouver area; Fraser Surrey Docks was acquired in 2020 in continuation of its strategic growth in Canada. It provides excellent proximity to major railways, highways, the Pacific Ocean, and industrial sectors just 18 miles from the U.S. border.

Elsewhere on the Canadian West Coast, on Vancouver Island, DP World and the Port of Nanaimo signed in 2021 a 50-year lease agreement around the shortsea shipping operations at Duke Point Terminal. Just recently, the federal government announced the funding of a study that will, among other things, focus on bolstering container-handling capacity and assess potential improvements for transporting cargo by sea over short distances between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.

On the East Coast, Port Saint John has embarked on a concerted campaign to enhance its position as an important Atlantic maritime gateway to Central Canada and the U.S. Northeast and Midwest. In the above context, DP World and Port Saint John welcomed two additional post-Panamax cranes last January to the container terminal. The arrival of these cranes – which brought the total to four at the port - marked a significant milestone in Port Saint John’s $205 million modernization project slated to be completed this year. The modernization program deepening quayside draft and increasing the on-dock rail sector will expand container capacity to 300,000 TEUs.

Last year, the Bay of Fundy port and its partners exceeded the milestone of 100,000 TEUs of cargo passing through the port, going on to end the year with more than 150,000 TEUs in throughput and an impressive annual growth rate of 72%. The port’s big ambition is to attain capacity of 800,000 TEUs.

Innovation Strategy to Build for Tomorrow

Meanwhile, commenting on a core strategy for DP World globally, Smith stressed: “To build for tomorrow, you need to embrace innovation and harness technology.”

In this regard, he highlighted BoxBay, a revolutionary technology recently introduced that changes the way that containers are handled at ports. A pilot project is underway at DP World’s Jebel Ali Terminal 4.

The patented design and rack structure of BoxBay creates unique advantages with containers stored up to eleven stories high, delivering the capacity of a conventional terminal on one third of the surface area. It is scalable to any location and fully automated with direct access to each container. “You literally can get any box at any time,” Smith said.