Vancouver is aggressively pursuing shipowners from around the world in an ambitious effort to build a world class maritime cluster in the city.

For more than two years, Kaity Arsoniadis-Stein has been ardently promoting an ambitious goal from her office overlooking the spectacular waterfront of Canada’s largest port.

In the process, she has, in her own words, interviewed top executives of more than 400 shipowners around the world.

Arsoniadis-Stein is executive director of the Vancouver International Maritime Centre (VIMC), a not-for-profit society that is, with some success, “branding” Vancouver as an emerging maritime centre and cluster trying to enter the big leagues dominated by such giants as Singapore, Tokyo, Oslo, Hamburg, Shanghai, Rotterdam and London.

In its 2017 annual report on the leading maritime capitals of the world, Menon Economics included Vancouver for the first time, ranking Vancouver 24th in the top 30.

According to the Norwegian consultancy, “Vancouver has the potential to build a position as the leading maritime city on the western side of the Americas. Vancouver’s maritime industry is well established and continuously growing.

“The Canadian city has the largest managed fleet of all the North American cities included in this analysis, and the aggregated market value of the city’s shipping companies is higher than those located both in New York and Los Angeles.”

Aerial view of the Port of Vancouver, BC
Aerial view of the Port of Vancouver, BC

Soon after the VIMC was established in the early 1990s, Vancouver became the home for Teekay Corporation, the major tanker enterprise which moved its operations from Long Beach. It also became the home for the ship management headquarters of Seaspan, a leading global container ship leasing company. Among other benefits, non-resident firms operating in Vancouver employing Canadian management are not subject to Canadian taxes on their income. There are no flagging requirements or vessel ownership restrictions. Regime flexibility allows for joint ventures and pooling arrangements.

Since Arsoniadis-Stein, a maritime lawyer by background, assumed the helm of VIMC in 2015, there has been an impressive number of 10 new arrivals, starting with big breakbulk operator AAL Shipping. Another is Greystoke Marine Management, a newly formed entity with personnel from a large energy sector carrier.

Still another is a prominent global maritime law firm, Morton Rose Fulbright which merged with a local Vancouver law firm and has become a key player in VIMC’s overall development.

The list also includes NYK Bulk and Projects Carriers (North America) Inc. and Victoria Maritime, an offshoot of Switzerland’s ABC Maritime.

Today, Arsoniadis-Stein reports that “two global giant shipowners (names withheld for confidentiality reasons at present) are coming very soon while another eight are getting set up through Morton Rose Fulbright as we speak.”

In her view, “Canada is on a level playing field with other maritime nations. We have a competitive tax structure and are strategically located on the Pacific Rim of the West Coast of North America. And global trade is shifting into the Pacific because of demand for resources in China and India especially.

“Moreover, we have a very strong, reliable banking system in Canada, political stability, and a modern democracy. When you look around the world, decision-makers must not ignore the geopolitical environment,” Arsoniadis-Stein told the AJOT.

“When professionals come here,” she continued, “they don’t want to leave. They greatly appreciate the quality of life, the high-level of education, the health care system, among other things.”

In essence, she stressed, “we should be optimizing more on our Canada brand.”

Funding for VIMC’s activities is supplied by the federal government and British Columbia’s provincial government. Some C$5 million was allocated for a three-year period that ends this March. Renewal time is complicated by the fact that a left wing New Democratic Party government took power away from the centrist Liberal Party in a hotly-contested recent election. Maritime industry circles in Vancouver are hopeful that renewed support will be “a no-brainer.”