By Keith Norbury

Most project cargo handled at Canada’s ports represents import volume, according to industry insiders. Those oversized pieces of cargo – wind turbines, oil field equipment, transformers, and massive cranes – are typically manufactured in Asia or Europe. Port of Belledune is trying to grow export volume.

Maritime Welding, a small New Brunswick company, which recently exported to Russia tanks that the company fabricated at its plant in Bathurst, ships other big things. About 70 per cent of Maritime Welding’s output is exported, mostly to the U.S., but also to South America. Much of that work is for power companies or mines. Projects include absorber towers, which are basically giant filters, and bag houses, which resemble enormous vacuum cleaners.

Other projects under way

“Right now we have a really large genset being fabricated at our modular fabrication facility that will go up north as well,” said Jenna MacDonald, Director of Marketing for Belledune Port Authority.

The Port Authority announced in February that MAN Diesel & Turbo Canada Ltd. would be the first tenant of that new facility. To finance construction of the facility, the New Brunswick government pitched in $7 million, the federal government paid $1.5 million, and the federal government’s Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency provided a $3.2-million loan.

MAN leased the facility starting in April for five months “to build enclosures, in which MAN gensets and auxiliary equipment will be installed,” said a Port Authority news release. Once completed, the structures will be barged to the Raglan mining site in Northern Quebec.

Still plenty of wind in turbine imports

“We started by importing and now we’re doing import and export,” Ms. MacDonald said of project cargo shipments at Belledune, which is on Chaleur Bay opposite Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. “So it’s a definitely a market we see developing from both directions.”

On the import side, project cargo has been increasing at Belledune, including windmills destined for a pair of wind farms each about 150 kilometres from the port. Seventy-two windmills were delivered in 2009 to the Caribou Wind Park, about 70 kilometres West of Bathurst. Another 30 were taken in 2010 to Lamèque Wind Farm on the Acadian Peninsula in Northeastern New Brunswick.

“For the Caribou project they came in as three tower sections, the nacelle, and then three blades per windmill,” Ms. MacDonald said. “And then for the Lamèque project they came in as two tower sections, one nacelle, and three blades, simply because they’re smaller wind towers.”

The Caribou windmills arrived on Wagenborg Shipping’s Alaskaborg during its maiden voyage from Vietnam.

“So ever since we did the wind projects here, we’ve seen a steady increase in project cargo going through the port,” Ms. MacDonald said.

Working with fabricators on new markets

Ms. MacDonald attributes that increase to two factors. One is that local fabricators, such as Maritime Welding, have been trying to expand their markets and bid on projects around the world. Secondly, the port has helped those companies with logistics, shipping, and handling to enable them to reach those markets.

For example, a project to manufacture 10 massive tanks for a potash plant in Russia also benefited from the support of Eastern Canada Stevedoring, Cyber Freight Systems, and East Coast Shrink Wrap. That kind of cooperation has created more interest from companies looking to use the port for their project cargo shipping needs, she said. “So I would say the future for us in project cargo looks pretty good.”