By Brian Dunn,
PORT OF MONTREAL
Considering some of the challenges it faced last year, including the continuing impact of COVID-19 and a dockworkers’ strike, cargo volumes handled at the port of Montreal remained relatively stable. Preliminary results show 33.9 million tonnes of cargo transited port facilities in 2021, a 3.5 per cent decrease, but a lot better than the 13-per-centdrop in 2020 from a record 2019 due to the rail blockade, dock strike and COVID-19.
The liquid bulk sector decreased by 5.4 per cent to 11.7 million tonnes. The dry bulk sector was down 7.3 per cent to 7.8 million tonnes, as droughts in Western Canada affected grain volumes. On the plus side, the container sector saw growth of 7.3 per cent to 1.7 million TEUs.
“Last year was OK, considering the overall supply chain disruptions,” said Martin Imbleau, President and CEO of Montreal Port Authority. “We should have some growth on the container side this year.” There are a lot of changes in the business model of supply chains with larger shipping lines acquiring logistics companies as clients don’t want to be held captive by supply disruptions, he added. In addition, some importers are taking things into their own hands. Canadian Tire, for example, is chartering its own cargo ships to import goods and bypass bottlenecks at ports and avoid skyrocketing shipping rates, keeping its store shelves stocked despite shortages elsewhere.
The Port has three priorities this year. The first is finalizing the selection of the prime contractor for its Contrecoeur terminal, the largest expansion project in the history of the port. Three consortia had been shortlisted for the construction of the estimated $750 million terminal which will double the port’s capacity. But the mandate was changed in mid-2021, and now requires bidders to not only design and build the terminal, but also to operate it on a long-term basis. The new mandate has delayed the commissioning of the terminal by a year to 2026. “The future Contrecœur container terminal will play a mission- critical role in developing the strategic St. Lawrence trade corridor and in supplying Quebec, Ontario and the U.S. Midwest,.” said Mr. Imbleau. “It will be a green, modern and innovative terminal with facilities that feature extensive electrification. Our goal is to make it a world-class infrastructure and we seek partners who share our vision, our values and our ambitions.”
The second priority is to improve fluidity at the port where congestion has many truckers waiting hours before accessing the port to retrieve containers, the Port is constructing a viaduct above Notre-Dame Street. This will allow the daily exit of more than 1,400 trucks directly on Dickson/ Souligny streets, relieving traffic on Notre-Dame St. The commissioning of the viaduct with a temporary road is scheduled for the end of this year.
The third priority is to improve the port’s carbon footprint primarily by convincing more docked vessels to connect to its electricity grid rather than being powered by their own diesel engines.
After being shut down for the past two years due to the pandemic, the cruise ship season is returning, with 47 cruise ships scheduled to call on Montreal between May 7 – October 31, up from an earlier schedule of 36 ships. In 2019, the last season before it was cancelled, Montreal welcomed 113,000 cruise passengers and crew which generated close to $30 million in economic benefits for the city, according to the Port.
MONTREAL GATEWAY TERMINALS
Last year was flat for Montreal Gateway Terminals (MGT) in terms of growth from 2020 when MGT handled between 950,000-975,000 TEUs, according to Michael Fratianni, President and CEO.
“There were a variety of reasons for last year’s performance, including the logistics chain being in total disarray, which meant fewer vessels coming into port. The labour issue (currently in arbitration) is still a concern.”
But there is room for optimism since there are containers “all over the place” that have to be delivered, so MGT is predicting single digit growth in 2022. “The economy and populations are growing on both sides of the Atlantic and with pent up demand, people are spending more on goods than material services.”
In addition, Mr. Fratianni is optimistic the Port can regain the confidence of shippers, particularly from the U.S. Midwest, which turned to other ports when Montreal dock workers went on strike last summer. “The port still has a reputation of being congestion free and there are no issues of long loading and unloading times.” Last year, MGT received two of its four ship-to-shore cranes, with the last two cranes scheduled to arrive by the end of the year along with 15 leading edge restackers.
Congestion at U.S. West Coast ports resulted in a pleasant surprise for Termont, which saw its business increase about 10 per cent last year over 2020, according to Termont General Manager Julien Dubreuil. “We had the labour issue which impacted our business with some traffic diverting to other ports like Halifax and St. John. But with the West Coast congestion, a lot of traffic was diverted to the East Coast, including Montreal.”
Business at Termont and at the Port of Montreal overall could get an additional boost as a result of another West Coast issue. The West Coast Master Contract that governs dock workers expires on June 30 which could potentially impact East Coast ports, according to Mr. Dubreuil. The East Coast Master Contract doesn’t expire for a few more years, he added. “Some shippers are anticipating there could be more labour issues and have already shifted to East Coast ports like Atlanta and Charleston. But then you get more congestion there which could benefit us again.”
During 2021, Termont completed the expansion of its Viau Terminal, adding 250,000 TEUs of capacity, bringing total capacity to 600,000 TEUs.
To lessen the impact on the environment, Termont replaced chemicals used to augment road salt when temperatures dipped below sub-freezing levels with beet juice. The initiative was proposed by environmental students at the Université de Sherbrooke.
Celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, Logistec has good reason to be optimistic as it’s coming off what it has termed an “exceptional year’” in 2021 with all divisions enjoying record- breaking activity. Operating on both sides of the border, the marine service provider was able to take advantage of infrastructure investments, particularly for steel and lumber.
Business from its twelve Quebec terminal operations was up roughly 20 per cent last year compared to 2020, according to Rodney Corrigan, President, Logistec Stevedoring. “We have several large bulk facilities on the St. Lawrence and business was strong throughout our network. Government spending on infrastructure has pushed steel demand very high which in turn has pushed the demand for raw materials which benefitted our operations in Sept-Îles and Contrecoeur.”
Like several operators in the East, Logistec is getting a boost from supply chain bottlenecks on the West Coast, including Vancouver, forcing shippers to look for alternatives in the East, primarily in containers.
The outlook for the first half of the current year should mirror that of 2021, according to Mr. Corrigan. Beyond that, there are too many unknowns to predict the entire year.