By Brian Dunn

The port of Montreal continues to grow its operations with a new record set in the container sector, handling a total of 1.6 million containers last year, an increase of 9 per cent over 2017. Total volume handled was 39 million tonnes, up 2.3 per cent during the corresponding period. It marks the fifth year in a row that total tonnage has increased.

Those numbers are reflected in the operations of Logistec Corp. which has also enjoyed healthy growth, according to company President and CEO Madeleine Paquin. “Last year was a pretty good year for everyone on the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes in terms of volume growth. In 2018, we did two acquisitions which added ten new terminals, giving us 61 terminals in 37 ports. The two acquisitions added $100 million in revenue.”

In March, Logistec acquired Gulf Stream Marine, Houston, TX, with ten terminals in five ports. Gulf Stream performs cargo handling, stevedoring and terminal operations. Two months later, Logistec acquired Pate Stevedore, Pensacola, FL. which also provides cargo handling and distribution services. “Both operations have highly regarded reputations which complement our existing operations and will help deliver higher expectations from our customer base,” said Ms. Paquin.

In Montreal, Logistec continues its strong partnership with the port’s container services which are growing in part through the Canada European Trade Agreement (CETA) and MSC’s business growth which is driving business globally through its Montreal gateway, noted Ms. Paquin. A record volume of dry goods was attributed to shipments of salt from overseas, scrap, alloys and sugar. “This year will also be an exciting one for us with increased volume through Viau (terminal) and through Phase II at Contrecoeur.”

Logistec is working closely with Port of Trois-Rivières which is increasing storage and dock capacity through its 2030 development plan. The company has seen an increase in project cargo activity, along with forest products which it hasn’t seen in years. Port de Sept-Îles saw a rebirth of iron ore activity where Logistec handled a record 5.6 million tonnes in nine months, according to Ms. Paquin.

Last year was a difficult one for ice conditions in the Arctic, but a banner year for cargo, with Logistec adding another vessel to its fleet to handle resupply for northern communities as well as cargo for mining companies Baffinland and Canadian Royalties.

Logistec also saw growth in its wood pellets handling business in Brunswick, GA, while it secured a new contract for forest products at its terminal in Baltimore, MD.

“We foresee continued growth this year in both volume and revenue, but we can’t expect it to come to us. We have to go find it. We would also love to be in Western Canada, as it has always been on our radar.”

Last year was also a ‘pretty robust one” in terms of volume growth at Montreal Gateway Terminals (MGT), according to Michael Fratianni, President and CEO, although he couldn’t put his finger on the leading factor for that growth. “Maersk added a new Mediterranean service last summer, and CETA has certainly helped, but I think it’s too early to tell by how much. The Canadian market has grown, particularly in Quebec and Ontario.

“When China announced its withdrawal as the world’s main repository for recyclable materials, there was some concern at the end of last year that exports would drop through the port of Montreal, as a lot of that material moves through Montreal. However, other Asian countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand have seen their share of recyclable imports rise, which had the effect of mitigating China’s pulling out of that market,” explained Mr. Fratianni.

“Despite all the discussions regarding tariffs the U.S. is looking to impose on certain nations, we remain cautiously optimistic regarding volumes for 2019. The U.S. Midwest remains a very important market for Montreal.”

In addition to ten electric rubber-tired gantry cranes (RTG) on order, with five expected to be delivered in May and the remainder in the fourth quarter, MGT is introducing a new truck gate system which involves, among other things, optimal character recognition technology.  “Once the system is rolled out in the second quarter of this year, the interchange information will be mostly already in our system thereby facilitating and accelerating trucker transactions. Similar to checking in online for a flight, the new system will allow trucking companies to do the paperwork from their offices. We also plan to conduct a study to possibly replace several of our ship to shore cranes,” said Mr. Fratianni.

Business at Termont Terminal over the last two years has been growing at a faster pace than that at the Port, according to Termont General Manager Julian Dubreuil, pointing out that 95 per cent of Termont’s business comes from MSC.

Last year, Termont relocated one crane from the Maisonneuve terminal to its Viau site to balance service at both terminals, said Mr. Dubreuil. It has ordered three RTGs for 2019 which will bring the total number of RTGs at Viau to ten.

While the Viau 350,000 TEU terminal is not operating at full capacity, it is increasing all the time. Phase II, which will increase capacity to 600,000 TEUs, is on target to occur within the next three or four years, Mr. Dubreuil predicted.

As part of a five-year, $120 million modernization project announced in late 2017, Montreal Port Authority is upgrading the Bickerdike Terminal, operated by Empire Stevedoring Co. Ltd.  Scheduled to begin in May, the total cost of the Bikerdike project is estimated at $25 million. The upgrade includes redeveloping truck access for fluidity and security; increasing and improving electrical capacity; replacing existing buildings; redeveloping container and cargo storage areas and redeveloping handling areas for cruise ships.

While the Shipping Federation of Canada has no shortage of issues to tackle, it has a few priorities it will focus on in 2019. The first priority will always be to continue to improve service to its members, noted Federation President Michael Broad. It would also like to see amendments to the Pilotage Act and even more icebreaking capacity and the installation of four-season buoys. But with a federal election coming in October, there may not be any movement on these files this year, said Mr. Broad.

“There is also the issue of the carriage of heavy fuels in the Arctic and low-sulphur fuel requirements as mandated by the IMO. We’d also like to see more government investment to track whales through underwater noise sensors and to modernize Canada’s Marine Communication Traffic Service, which is the Coast Guard’s system to monitor ship traffic movement in Canadian waters.” Another issue the Federation would like to move forward is the “marine single window” initiative under which all information required by Canadian authorities related to the arrival and departure of ships could be submitted electronically through a single portal. This concept would eliminate paper work, minimize redundancy and reduce possibilities of errors and delays in terms of cargo and vessel reporting. It is already in the process of being implemented in a number of countries, including those in the European Union, Mr. Broad pointed out.