With larger ships on horizon destined for Asian line hauls, the Port of Montreal is positioning itself to cater to mid-sized boxships shifted to trans-Atlantic routesBy Leo Ryan, AJOTNot so long ago, draft limitations on the St. Lawrence River constrained the size of container ships that could sail into Montreal to under 2,000 teus. But a major dredging program a few years ago on the channels leading to the port plus the conception by naval architects of vessels with wider beams changed the equation dramatically. So today ships with up to 4,200 teu capacity call at Canada’s leading east coast container port. However, the scenario could change again relatively quickly as more and more mega-containerships of 10,000 to 12,000 teus come on stream and mid-sized box vessels are shifted onto other trades. “Many ships in the mid-sized category operating in the Asia Pacific trades could be freed up to call at such ports as Montreal,” Patrice Pelletier, newly-installed president and CEO of the Montreal Port Authority, told AJOT in an interview. Containerships with capacities between 5,000 and 6,000 teus coming to Montreal are regarded as a distinct possibility. Such carriers as OOCL and Hapag-Lloyd have reportedly been thinking in these terms. It is within such a context together with the rising demands of global maritime trade that the Port of Montreal recently unveiled an ambitious strategic expansion plan, called Vision 2020. The chief goal: triple the port’s container-handling capacity to 4.5 million teus within 12 years at an estimated cost of C$2.5 billion. Last year, Montreal’s box throughput attained a record 1.4 million teus, and a further 10% growth is foreseen in 2008, thanks notably to surging exports from the US Midwest to Europe facilitated by a weak US dollar. The US Midwest and Northeast alone generate just over half of Montreal’s container business. At a well-attended luncheon on April 17 staged by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, Pelletier outlined the details of Vision 2020 – obtaining widely-favorable response from the business audience. For example, Kevin Doherty, chief executive of Montreal Gateway Terminals Partnership said, “it is encouraging to a see a progressive, visionary approach for building the port’s future amidst serious competition on the US eastern seaboard.” “It will be a good thing if what’s on paper becomes a reality,” said William Gottlieb, president of David Kirsch Forwarders Limited. “But the railways are a critical partner and will have to pull their weight, too.” Jean Bedard, president of the Maritime Employers Association in Montreal, said it was timely for Montreal to stay in the forefront of gateway projects that have mushroomed on the east and west coasts. While some of the financing will come from the port’s cash reserves, Pelletier made it clear that the largest part would have to come from the federal government and the private sector. At a press conference, he expressed the hope that the Canadian authorities would contribute up to C$650 million for an undertaking aimed at keeping Montreal in step with such US ports as New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads (Virginia) and Savannah (Georgia), which are receiving billions of dollars in government support for infrastructure funding. Phase one, to be completed by 2011, will focus on optimizing existing container facilities to increase operational efficiency. Phase two, to be completed by 2013, aims at expanding the existing sites for maximum container and bulk storage. Phase three, to be completed by 2016, will focus on the creation of new container infrastructures at sites located in the east end of Montreal or at Contrecoeur (40 kms downstream on the St. Lawrence River). This phase is slated to raise capacity to 3.5 million teus. The last phase will bring capacity to 4.5 million teus. Pelletier said that the Virginia Port Authority “benefits from investments of the state in a new railway corridor which will offer customers transit times to Chi