By Christopher Williams

Plan for future changes now and flourish. That’s the takeaway for representatives from ports across Canada and the world who gathered in Saint John, NB, September 10-13th for the 60th Annual Conference of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities (ACPA). Founded in 1958, ACPA represents all Canadian Port Authorities, various government entities and companies doing business in the marine sector. About 200 delegates heard keynote speakers and panelists focus on the future with such topics as supply chain clusters, meta-data analysis, climate resilience, global trade trends and cruise sector growth.

Marc-Yves Bertin, Director General, Marine Policy, Transport Canada, says the National Port Modernization Review—launched last March with roundtables— “is aimed at examining economic, social and environmental issues to put the national ports system on a firm footing for the future, with proper accountability measures in place.”

Keynote speaker Tiemen Meester, CEO and Managing Director, DP World Americas Region, encouraged shippers to take advantage of emerging global trade agreements and work with local stakeholders. “When you are looking for investors you want to support society and the environment; it’s not just about growth and productivity,” advised Meester. “Ports must be masters in understanding and predicting trade flows. It’s more dynamic than I’ve ever seen, due to currency fluctuations, regulation changes, emerging infrastructure, capacity changes—and not just on land, but also water.” The head of DP World’s North and South American business unit observed that ports in lesser developed countries are sometimes challenged to apply the latest technology due to unreliable power grids.

Meester called on port authorities to integrate the entire transportation chain. “The days of just ship-to-shore are gone. It’s important to have highways leading in and out of a port.” He sees diversity of the cargo handing mix as a key to growth in Saint John. Meester concluded with an appeal to recruit more young people in the logistics sector, especially in engineering and technology. “This can partly be achieved by bringing interns onboard earlier.”

Jim Quinn, President and CEO of Port Saint John, agreed with Meester, and noted employment is currently being addressed by the port through innovative education programs in local high schools. Quinn credited DP World’s collaborative efforts as a terminal operator on Port Saint John’s west side since 2017. New container and ro/ro services were recently added with CMA CGM and BAHRI Line. They join MSC which started calling Port Saint John on a weekly basis in 2012. “Together we’re building our port’s future with a seven-year $205-million modernization project,” added Quinn. The improvements include main channel dredging to handle Panamax sized ships and new technology to enhance cargo handing at a new multi-modal facility.

Quinn also saluted the glory days—when the port was renovated with floating cribs—with a tribute to 95-year-old Gordon Mouland who helmed the port from 1962 to 1986. He was also ACPA’s chair, 1980-81. Civil engineer Mouland starting work at the port in the 1940s. When introduced, he popped a Port Saint John ball cap upon his head with the tag dangling and called for the return of his vintage “bollard” necktie among marketing trinkets—and there were plenty at the conference. With artificial intelligence all the rage, the kiosk grabbing the most attention was Maritime Employers Association’s training simulator. There were constant crowds watching the screen as delegates tested their container stacking skills through the crane-portal program with a life-like seat and controllers.

Form Star Clusters

The first panel session, “Future Ports: How do we get there?” was moderated by Ruth Snowden, Executive Director, Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association. Mathieu Charbonneau, Executive Director of CargoM, walked through how the Logistics and Transportation Metropolitan Cluster of Montreal brought together 6,000 establishments in rail, trucking, marine, air freight, government and education—all under the CargoM brand. “We get around the table to review any problems we find moving merchandise and we discuss what needs to be done,” explained Charbonneau. “It’s a people-oriented Board of 17 and the Port of Montreal is the epicentre of the cluster.” In five years since forming the neutral body, the port has seen record increases in efficiency and cargo handling.

Crypto currencies, an emerging form of electronic cash such as Bitcoin, were discussed briefly. The transactions are verified by network nodes through cryptography and are recorded in a publicly distributed ledger called a blockchain. They can improve transportation and logistics in many ways from cargo tracking to security. Charbonneau said a victory for CargoM was working with trucking companies to obtain data using onboard “black boxes” like those on airplanes and working with the University of Montreal on data analysis. “We made a big change! Everyone is using the same tools and we’re now on our third study.”

Saint John-based J.D. Irving Limited (JDI) has a cluster of integrated companies in shipbuilding, trucking, towing, pulp and paper, french fries, and building supplies. Wayne Power, Group Vice President of JDI’s Transportation and Logistics Division, said the company is deploying a digital transformation strategy for road, rail and sea transportation. “Several years ago, we began mining data and doing analytics and now we are creating a more wholistic view to make our assets even smarter and our operations more precise.” Power says the next phase could include such technology as augmented reality glasses for customer interaction, technical maintenance and real-time troubleshooting by experts virtually anywhere.

Lucky Port Cities

The “Port City, Lucky City” panel was moderated by Wendy Zatylny, President, ACPA, and featured Mayor Don Darling, City of Saint John, and Mayor Paolo Fongémie, City of Bathurst.

“As you may know, Saint John is an energy hub with Canada’s largest oil refinery and an LNG (importing) facility,” Mayor Darling said. “Beyond the global connections and many jobs these facilities create, our tourism operators have a new bounce in their step with 200,000 cruise passengers visiting our awesome city this year!”

Mayor Fongémie concurred—ports play a significant role in their communities through careers, economic spin-offs and charitable donations. “Port of Belledune near Bathurst has donated over $1-million to regional groups in the last decade and recently signed a new protocol agreement with the Mi’kmaq First Nations in New Brunswick,” said Fongémie. Belledune also affirmed its commitment to environmental sustainability this year signing on with the Green Marine certification program.

Prepare for Nasty Weather

The topic blew into climate impact on ports. “It’s going to be warmer, wetter and wilder,” predicts David Phillips, Senior Climatologist, Environment and Climate Change Canada. “Port areas, roads and rail lines will need different specifications for asphalt and anything metal like cranes and warehouses. The Swiss are already painting their rail lines white due to fluctuating temperatures.” He said more cooling energy will be required to safeguard produce in storage, while heat and storms could impose different operational demands on workers.

Phillips was followed by a panel moderated by Janice Noronha, Partner, Risk Assurance Services, PwC Montreal, exploring how ports can be resilient in the face of climate change. “Climate is a risk scenario unlike any other risk ports have faced,” began Mark Gillan, Director of New Brunswick-based Emergency Solutions International (ESI), who has conducted over 150 industrial exercises and evaluations in Canada. “The effects of climate change on ports must be looked at in the same way as security threats, such as terror or cyber attacks.”

Dr. Kana Mutombo, Principal Engineer with South African port operator Trans-net, presented his research from the World Maritime University in Sweden. He underlined ports have traditionally “based operations on the concept of a static climate, which does not exist anymore”. Referring to the port of Durban, commonly called Durban Harbour— the largest and busiest shipping terminal in sub-Saharan Africa—Dr. Mutombo said stronger winds have added downtime for cranes loading cargo, and higher waves and precipitation add sediment to the harbour requiring more dredging. “It is a matter of adapting or dying,” he warns. “Traditional probabilistic risk management methods are inadequate in the context of climate change which is characterised by uncertainty. Rather than resisting the changing climate, port managers need to strive for resilience through their capacity to recover in the face of turbulent change.”

Sustainable Growth

The next session looked at best practices for sustainable growth in the Western Hemisphere. Mark McAndrews, Port Director, Pascagoula, Mississippi, said going door-to-door defining the process about a new rail line proved to be a surprisingly effective approach in building trust prior to a major infrastructure project. “There was a lot less complaining than one would think,” shared McAndrews, who also recounted how the Gulf of Mexico port worked frantically to return shipping channels to service just two weeks following Hurricane Katrina.

Christopher Cooley, Director of Environmental Affairs, Port Tampa Bay, said getting gasoline imports back online was a top priority for Florida following the vehicle exodus from Hurricane Irma last year which depleted the state’s gas supply. “Our port now has a mobile command unit and co-location site on higher ground in case a major storm hits, and our emergency planning goes beyond weather events.” Cooley says Port Tampa Bay continually prepares for gas leaks and oil spills and works closely with local partners on all environmental matters like protecting local sea turtle habitat.

As if to underscore their messages, the cruise ship Norwegian Dawn was calling in Saint John after being diverted by hurricane Florence from a planned cruise to Bermuda. The climate discussion was also timely with government carbon pricing imminent.

Global Trade Beckons

The elephant in the room was the yet unknown result of trade negotiations between U.S., Canada and Mexico to replace NAFTA. The new USMCA deal wasn’t struck until October 3. “The trend for about a century has been organizing our economics with the U.S.,” related Duane McMullen, Director General for Trade Operations, Global Affairs Canada. “That trend has been very good for both countries but might be changing; and while this could be difficult for Canada, we have faced more difficult challenges and come out stronger and better.” McMullen presented stats indicating 75.9 per cent of Canadian exports currently go to the United States, while almost 30 per cent of Canada’s future trade growth over the next 20 years could come from China. He sees unprecedented interest from Canadian companies wanting to know about trade with Europe, Japan and China. “We need to figure out how to have a successful relationship with China, not just because it’s important to the future of our economy—but Canada has a strong influence. They are changing because of us, and the more we engage China, the more we catalyze that process. Canadian companies are good at understanding the risks and we can do a lot more.” McMullen says trade potential is huge because “Canada doesn’t have enough trees” to supply the future forest products needs in China.

Canada has a headstart trading outside of North America having signed on with CETA last fall—The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada, the European Union and its members. “The U.S. does not have such an agreement with Europe and is not interested in one,” McMullen underlined. “Canada has also finalized negotiations with Asia Pacific nations through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPRPP) which should come into force next year. This is an opportunity to reorient Canada on traditional global trade.” He says there are discussions about free trade agreements with China and India too—”so it’s back to the future with the type of economy we had before there were close ties with the U.S.—and ports are obviously key.”

Tour Operators Honoured

A local highlight at the 60th ACPA conference was the Medal of Merit Award which has been presented since 1975. This year, ACPA honoured east coast tourism operators Beth Kelly Hatt, founder of Aquila Tours, and Dennis Campbell, founder of Ambassatours Gray Line & Murphy’s The Cable Wharf.

Beth Kelly Hatt established Aquila Tours in Saint John in 1982 as a seasonal company offering city tours to visitors. Aquila grew quickly and joined the National Tour Association in 1988, and Beth was the first from Atlantic Canada to receive her Certified Tour Professional designation in 1991, the same year she was awarded the region’s Women Entrepreneurship Award. She has since received many awards and official recognitions including being named one of the 25 People to Watch in Atlantic Canada by Progress Magazine in 2006 and one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada by the Woman’s Executive Network and the Richard Ivey School of Business in 2003.

Ambassatours Gray Line is the largest motor coach/water and rail sightseeing tour and charter operator in Atlantic Canada with offices in Saint John, Charlottetown, Sydney NS and head office in Halifax. Ambassatours merged with Murphy’s the Cable Wharf and is now growing that company in locations throughout the Maritime provinces.

The final session explored how Canada can increase its cruise market share currently valued at $3.5 billion. According to keynote Adam Goldstein, Vice Chairman, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, there is nowhere to go but up. Goldstein oversees the corporation’s Government and Destination Relations globally and has been with the company since 1988. He also serves as Chair of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association. Goldstein presented fresh statistics on the largest 25 cruise lines. He said it’s possible to show what will happen 10 years from now due to long lead times of the cruise business. “We are very confident to say the compound annual growth rate of the cruise industry will continue at a pace of four per cent per year over the next decade,” he estimates. “This is faster than GDP growth and there is a meaningful opportunity for many Canadian ports to grow at an even faster rate and be worth $5 billion within 10 years. This is a good time for cruising in Canada.” A critical factor is elongating the cruise season in eastern Canada. “Our travel agency partners are demanding to go to eastern Canada in the summer, but to gain market share during the competitive northern summer is a formidable task,” admits Goldstein.

Distinctive Appeal, Deep Water

Goldstein says Canadian ports must develop their own distinctive appeal and deliver cruise satisfaction at a world-class level. With the trend toward building larger cruise ships, he believes Halifax and Saint John can attract more of the largest ships thanks to their deep harbours. He singled out Australia as the leading cruising nation: “Australia is far beyond everyone because they have done a fantastic job marketing to their own countrymen—and people from other places. We need to do a better job synching up Canada with a cruise industry like Australia where they take cruising very seriously at a national level.”

Goldstein says Croatia, Germany, India and Singapore—the multicultural island city-state off southern Malaysia—are all rising cruise destinations, often because of their ease of flying in and out. “In just five years, Japan is now at the forefront of developing cruise infrastructure and Norway has done a great job marketing their fiord destinations while at the same time being ecologically sensitive. China just started cruising and is already the fastest-growing market in the world.”

There are 1.3 billion international border crossing trips this year and Goldstein expects over 2 billion in 10 years. “That’s a lot of people seeing the world and a lot of opportunity. But it can also be a burden for communities to manage their way toward economic benefits—without dislocation and costs.”

Goldstein says the “key to opening the door” is arranging meetings with local government officials and taking a regional approach. Swinging full-circle to the “cluster” discussions, Goldstein reinforced: “You need to get stakeholders talking together, which sounds simple, but does not always happen.”

Betty MacMillan, Manager Cruise Development at Port Saint John and Chair of the Atlantic Canada Cruise Association, shared impressive local numbers. “The Canada-New England region has steady growth except for 2014 where one cruise line dropped a few calls, but the region is recovering nicely with 1.2 to 1.3 per cent growth and a big increase the number of visitors to our ports.” MacMillan recalled 1996 cruise numbers at about 12,000 passengers per year. Now there can be 12,000 visiting Saint John in a single day. She says Saint John is known as the “most adventurous port city” in the region. “From the first cruise ship 30 years ago, this seasonal business has grown from 500 passengers to close to 200,000 in 2018, and 2019 is forecast to break our 2010 record with up to 215,000.” MacMillan was named Port Personality of the Year at Seatrade Cruise Awards in Lisbon, Portugal in September.

Donna Taylor, President and CEO of the Port of Oshawa, was re-appointed ACPA’s Chair during the AGM in Saint John. “With the National Port Modernization Review underway and our many other important initiatives coming up, we have tremendous opportunities for growth and partnerships,” she said, noting this was her 41st ACPA conference. Kurt Nagle, long-time President and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) also attended the conference. Nagle retires from AAPA next fall, following more than 33 years of service to the port industry.

The conference concluded with the famous Maritime Kitchen Party Gala Reception & Dinner in the Market Square Atrium and Saint John Trade & Convention Centre, followed by port tours the next day.