By R. Bruce Striegler

Improving connections to Asia Pacific trade

“DP World is now operating, as an independent operator, a twice-weekly barge service to and from its Vancouver container terminal to Nanaimo Port Authority’s Duke Point terminal,” says Bernie Dumas, CEO of Nanaimo Port Authority. Dumas says the Port Authority provided DP World a section of the terminal at Duke Point, and performed minor upgrades on the existing gantry crane so the port could smoothly handle containers shipped by the short-sea shipping endeavour.

“DP World brings its extensive container and computer resources as well as its relationships with customers at Centerm to the deal,” says Dumas. “We’re moving a good number of containers on export, and are beginning a dialogue with key import accounts to have them consider using the barge service since we’ll now have containers here.”

In recent decades, Port of Nanaimo has survived largely on exports of dimensional lumber, so for Bernie Dumas, diversification was essential. “The lumber business on Vancouver Island is up and down, and it seems that when it goes down, it doesn’t always come back as strongly.” Working with his team at the Port, Dumas began looking at new business opportunities that would expand Nanaimo’s cargo mix.

“Vancouver Island doesn’t have a large manufacturing base, so we looked at cargo flows, particularly at container trade.” This led to discussions with DP World which operates Port Metro Vancouver’s Centerm. “In January this year, we signed a terminal contract with DP World to handle stevedoring activities in Nanaimo. That opened discussions about what else we could do to increase container traffic.” Dumas notes that back in the 1990’s, Nanaimo Port Authority acquired a 40-tonne container gantry crane that hasn’t seen much use.

“It has been an objective of mine to find ways to connect with the Asia-Pacific gateway,” he says. Dumas remained convinced that Nanaimo could find that role, pointing out that the Port has customers from North and South Island that are moving cargo to or from Asia, but using the more traditional, slower methods of BC Ferries, or the Seaspan barge service to get their cargo to Port Metro Vancouver. He says that once DP World became involved with Nanaimo Port Authority, it suggested a barge operation, a real short-sea shipping effort.

A competitively-priced alternative service

Kerry Lige, Commercial Director of DP World Vancouver says, “We’ve always been interested in short-sea shipping because we think it makes sense for a number of reasons.” He notes that it is a ‘green’ initiative, reducing trucks on the roadway, that it simplifies shipping procedures by reducing the number of trans-loads required to get cargo from Vancouver Island for shipment to Asia or other world markets. “With this venture, we’re also trying to attract trade to our shipping line customers, who otherwise would not be handling this business.”

“We’ve priced the service competitively and are offering the marketplace an alternative transportation service at a reduced cost with a more seamless process.” He adds that most export cargo from Vancouver Island is forest products such as milled lumber for Japan or China. When it comes to cargo inbound for Vancouver Island, Lige says, “Much of this is retail cargo, large companies such as Canadian Tire which move goods to many destinations on the Island. Traditionally, this cargo travelled from the mainland by BC Ferries or Seaspan but with our short-sea shipping option we offer customers like them a cost-effective and greener way to move their cargo, as well as creating more jobs in the port of Nanaimo.”

Until the short-sea shipping service was launched in mid-August there was very little container activity on Vancouver Island. “We’re actually containerizing the Island, since up until this time, much of the goods movement was handled by vans or trucks.” The equipment DP World is using includes an 80 metre barge, modified with container lock-down sockets on deck, improved winching systems and a capacity of 164 forty-foot containers. “We began the service with weekly trips. However, we’ve realized that is not frequent enough, and so at the end of October we implemented two sailings per week on a Monday to Friday schedule.”

Lige says that through customer appreciation events and the approximately 400 containers moved in under two months, he judges that businesses are pleased to see another option to move cargo back and forth between the B.C. mainland and Vancouver Island. “While the frequency of sailings was initially a challenge, we think that making the service twice weekly will remove that barrier, and we’re looking forward to an increasingly successful operation.”