By Christopher Williams

It’s the first global container service in Saint John in more than 25 years and it just got better. After launching a bi-weekly service from Port of Saint John in May, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) demonstrated its commitment to Atlantic Canada on September 14th when the company announced it was increasing its schedule to weekly service.

“From the beginning, we intended to have a weekly service,” explains Sarah Norgaard, MSC’s Regional Sales Manager for Atlantic Canada. “We hope this will reassure the market that we meant what we said. We are here to develop the business for the long-term and are delighted to bring the world to customers throughout this region.”  Norgaard says MSC operates a fleet of 441 container vessels serving 6 continents and calling 335 ports.

Sokat Shaikh, Managing Director of MSC (Canada) Inc., said the decision to go with a weekly service ahead of schedule accommodates growing demand. “This service enhancement was based entirely on the commitments we have received from our customers, who understand the importance of utilizing a local option that makes sense and supports the local economy,” he said.

“Shippers are capitalizing on MSC’s vast global network”, explains Olga Goldin, Marketing Assistant Manager, MSC (Canada) Inc. “We started with focus on service to Central and South America and now are working with our customers to service more than 14 trades in many different parts of the world including China, India, Russia, UK, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa,” Goldin said.

The expansion of MSC’s services at Port of Saint John presents tremendous opportunities for New Brunswick businesses to expand their markets by getting their products around the world directly.  Forest products continue to be a strong export from the region and Saint John-based J.D. Irving, Limited is a core supporter of the burgeoning service.

“The increase in MSC service from Saint John is welcome news,” said Irving spokesperson Mary Keith. “This is a vital link in bringing our made-in-New Brunswick forest products to the world. For Irving Pulp and Paper, our West Saint John pulp mill, and Lake Utopia Paper near St. George, the new schedule provides additional flexibility and the opportunity to increase volumes to the Caribbean and South America.”  Keith says medium from Lake Utopia Paper, used in packaging, is shipped to Latin America, while pulp from the Irving Pulp and Paper mill is shipped to Brazil.

Jim Quinn, President and CEO of Port of Saint John, is thrilled MSC decided to expand to a weekly rotation. “The Montreal, Saint John, Dominican Republic route fits perfectly with this Port’s North-South strategy,” Quinn observes.  “Port of Saint John is complementary within the Atlantic Gateway concept and if New Brunswick plants are busier producing goods, they hire more people which leads to a greater tax base—exactly what we need in New Brunswick.”

The additional traffic and handling is also improving the Port’s bottom line. “At the end of August, Port of Saint John container tonnage was up 6 per cent year-to-date, and up 8 per cent year-to-date in TEUs,” reported Paula Small, Manager of Public Relations at Port of Saint John.

The expanded container service also bodes well for Port labour. “Back in the mid- 1980s, we lost a lot of traffic to Halifax and we haven’t been an important container port for a while,” said Pat Riley, Business Agent for the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 273 in Saint John. “MSC’s service really turns the corner for us. This is huge. It allows Saint John to get its cargo back and provides New Brunswick shippers a weekly global service we have not had in years. MSC made its decision to go weekly sooner than expected and this is a tribute to a partnership we are working very hard on collectively to build opportunities for our province. New Brunswick businesses need to use this service, lock it down and secure different routings.”

Several other New Brunswick companies are already taking full advantage of the MSC service including McCain, Cavendish Farms and AV Cell. Saint John also offers Tropical Shipping Canada’s well-established weekly container service to Florida and Latin America.

“A few years ago, Port of Saint John identified North-South connections as strategically important to its trade development objectives,” commented Andrew Dixon, Senior Vice-President of Planning and Development. “With Tropical and now MSC, we are strengthening these connections, and further developing our North-South relationship.”

Consequently, Port of Saint John and ZFMC, Port of Caucedo (DPW Caucedo) established a sister port relationship in early September when representatives from Port Saint John and the federal government took part in an eight-day mission to the region which included meeting importers, exporters and trade commissioners in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The formal sister port agreement will be signed later this fall during a pan-New Brunswick trade mission to the region.