By Keith Norbury

Canadian companies are making names for themselves in handling project cargo and breakbulk not just in this country, but all over the world. “Particularly in the mining sector, a lot of Canadian project freight-forwarding companies are controlling the movement of capital goods from Canadian-based mining companies but in foreign locations,” said Jan Beringer, President and CEO of Calgary-based project freight forwarders Rohde & Liesenfeld Canada Inc. “For instance, I’m working now on the logistics for the movement of railcars and setting up a railroad system in Mongolia for a coal mine.”

Mr. Beringer’s company is far from alone in that regard. For example, several of Montreal-based Logistec Stevedoring’s 32 locations are in the United States. It is a similar story with another Montreal company, Empire Stevedoring Ltd., which has operations in New Orleans, Houston, and Mobile, Alabama.

During the past three years, Empire has invested $5 million in non-container-handling equipment at its facilities, with about 75 per cent of that investment going to the U.S. operations, said company President Andrew Chodos. “We’re ready to handle anything,” he said.

Toronto-based Albacor Shipping Inc. has a sister company in the U.S., an office in Germany, and recently opened an affiliate in Russia. Only about 35 of Albacor’s 150 employees work in Canada. Worldwide, the company does about $150 million in business a year, and 80 per cent of that is in project work. So much of his company’s work is outside of Canada that when company President Wolfgang Spillner is asked for examples of recent project work, he mentions a chemicals project in Russia’s oil industry and tunneling projects in the U.S.

“In the last 30 years, a generation of Canadian freight forwarders has grown up and acquired a level of experience that is recognized around the world, enabling them to work on projects globally,” Mr. Beringer observed.

For Jeremy Nickel, President of Vancouver-based Nickel Bros Industrial, having a U.S. subsidiary can be a huge benefit when moving project cargo across the Canada-U.S. border. “Because we have our Seattle operation, a lot of shipping companies prefer going into the port of Tacoma or the port of Seattle versus Vancouver,” Mr. Nickel said. “Vancouver tends to be a little more expensive and the distance is actually shorter to Seattle than to Vancouver for many overseas ships coming in.” That creates a problem of getting those goods into Canada. But it is easily solved because Nickel Bros can use its own barges or trucks to carry the load across the border. Buoyed by its success of moving 23 large loads from China and Thailand to a pulp mill in Alberta last year, Nickel Bros is now looking abroad for even more project cargo opportunities. “Right now we’re entertaining calls and providing quotes to many Chinese companies, whereas until a year ago, we’d never had a call from China,” Mr. Nickel said. That’s something Mr. Beringer can relate to. “I see more and more of our work being from offshore but controlled from Canada,” he said.