By Christopher Williams

“We believe the Port of Saint John is a sleeping giant, and we’re going to see what we can do to wake it up,” stated Sarah Norgaard, Regional Sales Manager for Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC). On behalf of the second largest container shipping line in the world, she announced on March 21 that MSC will launch a bi-weekly container service in May connecting New Brunswick shippers with markets Port of Saint John has not had in 25 years.

Until now, MSC has only operated at Canada’s two largest ports, Vancouver and Montreal. A privately owned company, founded in 1970 and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, MSC has 480 ships in its fleet connecting with 341 global ports. It is one of the few carriers able to offer worldwide coverage with one bill of lading. The huge company currently carries 14 per cent of the global container market. 

“Those are big numbers, but what does this mean for the people of New Brunswick?” asked Norgaard, who recently moved to Saint John. “It means you now have easy connections for your goods to and from almost anywhere in the world, right in your backyard.”  She said it was logical for MSC to choose the port of Saint John given its strategic location and world-class infrastructure. “We believe what is manufactured in New Brunswick should be transported through a home-port for the benefit of the local community and economy.”

“This new service is a key step in Port of Saint John’s renewal strategy,” explained Jim Quinn, President and CEO of Saint John Port Authority (SJPA). He addressed a large crowd inside the Marco Polo Cruise Terminal that included Sokat Shaikh, President of MSC Canada and New Brunswick Premier David Alward.

 “The arrival of MSC will strengthen New Brunswick’s reach throughout the world,” Premier Alward said, smiling and nodding frequently throughout the announcement.

 “It’s a great day for our port city and great day for the province,” concurred Stephen Campbell, Chairman of SJPA’s Board of Directors.

Jim Quinn added that “many people worked relentlessly,” to bring in the new line. He pointed out that Andrew Dixon, the Port Authority’s Senior Vice-President Planning & Development, had been knocking on doors for 15 years to help the deal come to fruition.

 “We’ve been involved in discussions with Mr. Shaikh and his team for the past few years,” recalled Dixon. “I feel confident we have the right line with the right business model providing a long-overdue service that reconnects New Brunswick shippers to markets around the globe.”

From Montreal, MSC’s Southbound Service currently ships con­­­­­tainers to the large transshipment ports of Caucedo, Dominican Republic and Freeport, Bahamas, and Saint John will now be a key port on this route.

Long considered an East Coast gateway to Latin America, and taking advantage of Saint John’s road and rail connections, Florida-based Tropical Shipping opened its Canadian head office in Saint John in 2001 and has since doubled its Canadian tonnage. Tropical focuses on the Canadian reefer business to and from  Florida, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean. Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic are particularly strong markets for Tropical.

Pat Riley, business agent for the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 273, said a second regular container line will bring more work to the port. Longshoremen attending the announcement said they look forward to seeing MSC’s yellow and black boxes at Rodney Container Terminal which is operated by Logistec. 

“This is some of the best news in 10 years,” said Curtis Doiron, Logistec’s National Sales Manager who is based in Montreal but has worked for several years with Logistec in Saint John. “We’ve been very happy with Tropical, and with MSC we could increase our throughput as much as 50 per cent.”

Mediterranean Shipping will bring larger containerships to Saint John than Tropical does, likely in the 330-TEU range. Estimated transit times from Saint John to MSC’s major transshipment ports are six days to Caucedo, and ten days to Freeport.