By Tom Peters

In discussions about marine cargo, breakbulk takes a back seat to the much more talked about containerized world and its ever growing fleet of massive ships. However, although the breakbulk sector might not sport the ‘high profile’ of containers, it is receiving a lot of attention at Port of Halifax.

And there is good reason. “Our breakbulk got off to a very strong start and continues to grow,” said Patrick Bohan, Manager of Business Development for Halifax Port Authority (HPA).

Breakbulk volume of 47,444 tonnes in the first quarter of 2012 was up 132 per cent over Q1-2011 volumes, and was up 46 per cent sequentially over the fourth quarter of 2011. In Q2 of 2012, breakbulk was up 7.6 per cent over Q1 of 2012.

Growth has been in both import and export business handled at the Port’s two breakbulk facilities, Ocean Terminal, near the Halifax Grain Elevator, and Richmond Terminals, a multi-use facility at the Northend near Harbour Narrows.

Products such as utility poles, components for wind turbines, steel rails, nickel sulphides, heavy machinery, mining equipment and special project cargoes are just some of the diverse cargoes that move through these two terminals.

Breakbulk is good business for the Port, and the sector has drawn heavy investment.  Richmond Terminals is in the midst of a $73-million modernization and expansion that will be complete in 2014. The work includes pier strengthening and expansion, upgrading warehousing and storage facilities and construction of a laydown area. The terminal is served by on-dock rail and road.

The project, being jointly funded by Halifax Port Authority and the federal government through Atlantic Gateway funding, will make Richmond the prime breakbulk facility at the port.

“Port of Halifax has diverse cargo-handling capabilities and expertise in breakbulk-handling. With major infrastructure upgrades set to be complete by 2014 at Richmond Terminals, our capacity to handle breakbulk cargo will be greatly expanded,” said George Malec, HPA’s Vice-President of Business Development and Operations.

Completion of the Richmond project will be timely with two areas of breakbulk growth about to happen in Halifax within the next few years.

Halifax will be the transshipment hub for finished products and supplies to and from Vale’s processing plant in Long Harbour, Newfoundland. The $2.8 billion plant will be completed in 2013 and will be able to process 50,000 tonnes of nickel, 5,000 tonnes of copper and 2,000 tonnes of cobalt annually. Vale chose Halifax as its transshipment port because of the major carriers that call the port.

Halifax will also be humming as work begins on $25 billion worth of navy ships at the Halifax Shipyard. The yard is expected to cut steel for the first ships, Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, in late 2014 or early 2015. HPA has been in discussions with the Irving Group, shipyard owner and operator, about the long-term ­project which could generate considerable breakbulk business for the Port.

In the meantime, HPA has been aggressively marketing the port’s breakbulk capabilities. Port officials attended the BreakBulk Europe 2012 conference and trade show in Antwerp this past May.

“Antwerp was a good place to be because many of the major carriers were there, plus the large procurement and construction firms that are involved in major capital projects in Canada, and some of the large machinery manufacturers,” said Bohan, “There was a high level of interest from several companies in doing business through Halifax”.

“We have robust cargo-handling capabilities at our two breakbulk terminals, and efficient stevedoring companies moving the product, so we’re well positioned long-term to handle more imports and exports,” said Mr. Malec.

HPA further enhanced its breakbulk possibilities by signing a 10-year lease agreement with Nova Scotia Business Inc. to manage the Sheet Harbour Marine Terminal.

“We know that Port of Sheet Harbour is an important asset and we look forward to working with all of the diverse members of the community to make this a successful undertaking,” said Mr. Malec.

“The growth in breakbulk and our increase in breakbulk terminal capabilities is a signal that it’s an area of potential for Halifax and we are developing this line of cargo aggressively,” he added.