By Leo Ryan, AJOT On Canada’s East Coast, business remains strong at the ports actively engaged in container cargo in an environment of brisk demand in North America and Europe in particular. Of the three ports concerned, Montreal continues to lead the pack by a large margin, followed by Halifax which in the past few years has put together a comprehensive strategy to maximize its existing, deep water facilities. The Port of Saint John, on the Bay of Fundy, which handles the most total cargo, may be a relatively small player in the container trade but is continuing to build on its North-South connections with Florida and the Caribbean. In the first nine months of 2004, the Port of Montreal posted significant traffic increases in all but one cargo category, with container volume rising more than 10%. Total cargo of 17.2 million metric tons represented an 11.6% increase from the corresponding period of last year. “We can say that this good news stretches far beyond the port,” said Dominic Taddeo, president and CEO of the Montreal Port Authority. Another new box record, thus, is on the horizon after 2003’s container tally of 1,108,837 teus represented an increase of 3.3%. During the period to end September, traffic in containerized cargo rose to eight million tons from the year-earlier 7.2 million tons. The number of teus came in at nearly 900,000 units versus 817,244 in 2003. With the arrival of additional carriers, today 12 of the world’s top 15 container lines call at Montreal, which derives more than half of its container business from the US Midwest and Northeast. CP Ships remains the dominant operator at the Montreal gateway. However, following weaker results, the carrier plans to reduce capacity on the flat Atlantic market; between February and April 2005, three 2,400-teu vessels will be redeployed on more profitable trade lanes and replaced by smaller, chartered containerships. Montreal was not immune to the considerable intermodal delays provoked by the unexpected sharp increases in container traffic in both the Atlantic and Pacific markets. The dramatic surge in Chinese exports through the Port of Vancouver especially had a domino effect across Canada. There was no traditional lull in July and August, and the intermodal network only began returning to normal in the fall. The new container services committed to Montreal this year have included Europe Canada Express by CMA CGM, Lloyd Triestino (Evergreen) and Zim Israel Navigation, APL slot-chartering on the North Europe service of Maersk Sealand and P&O Nedlloyd, and Senator Lines adding a service to Northern Europe. Commenting on the latter, Hans-Hermann Mohr, CEO of Senator Lines, declared: “This is our answer to the wish of our long-standing customers to supply a fast and reliable connection of Northern European markets, including Scandinavia and the Baltic region, with Canada.” At the Port of Halifax, containerized cargo declined slightly during the first nine months compared with the same period in 2003. Measured in teus, box traffic was down 3.2% at 396,346 units versus 409,456 units last year. Several factors have contributed to the decline. First, the Nova Scotia port is still absorbing the impact of Maersk Sealand’s decision last year to terminate one of its North Atlantic services. Second, while containerized exports have actually increased 2.2%, imports through Halifax have fallen seven percent. This is because shipping lines calling on the US Eastern seaboard as well as Halifax have been deploying more capacity to the US market. A third element has been the loss of SPM Container Line’s coastal feeder service between Halifax, Boston and Portland. This occurred last summer when the Shamrock, the ship chartered to SPM, was seized in Portland after a Dutch bank - which held a mortgage on the vessel - claimed the owner had defaulted on loan payments exceeding $14 million. With existing capacity, there is room for the port’s container throughput to grow to up to 800,000 teus a