By Brian Dunn

NEAS Group President and CEO Suzanne Paquin is relieved that business in 2016 was better than it was in 2015, when ice and unfavorable wind conditions delayed the start of the Arctic shipping season by several weeks. “Things went quite a bit smoother than in 2015, although we had some (late) ice in Ungava Bay last year. We’re getting good cooperation from the Coast Guard as the delivery of goods is an important service to northern communities. We did 11 voyages in 2016, compared to an average of 12 most years.”

It’s still too early to venture a guess how business will shape up this year, but customers are starting to enquire about space. NEAS will have a better idea towards the end of March or beginning of April. “Our focus going forward is improving cargo handling and pick-up procedures, and on federal government investments in the Arctic,” said Ms. Paquin. Major projects that have sustained NEAS in the last few years are coming to a close. They include construction of a new airport terminal in Iqaluit, the Canadian High Arctic Research Station and the Glencore Raglan Mine Wind Turbine Energy Project in Nunavik.

“But there are a few things happening either this year or next like the new port in Iqaluit. It still has to go through the regulatory procedure. The Glencore nickel mine itself is very last minute. There’s talk of expanding the mine, but you never know. Government housing projects are ongoing, but they depend on their capital expenditure budget and we’re more than competitive in that market.”

NEAS hopes to reap some benefits from Quebec’s vaunted Maritime Strategy which has earmarked around $300 million to develop logistics hubs around the province which potentially could include Valleyfield, the company’s base of operations for Arctic shipping.

Meanwhile, NEAS continues to focus on customer service, marine safety and its Arctic corridors. “It’s

important not to lose sight of the services we provide to Arctic communities,” noted Ms. Paquin. “As a result, we do have some influence on the Canadian Coast Guard. They listen to our needs. They normally publish a Level of Services document with very specific dates for icebreaking operations. But they no longer publish the document, because they can’t always meet those expectations.”

Arctic shipping continues to be a major component of Valport Maritime Services, a private company that provides stevedoring, logistics, marshalling, warehousing and staging of breakbulk and bulk cargo at the Port of Valleyfield, west of Montreal. The port handles about 900,000 tonnes of cargo annually, the bulk for NEAS “We still do a lot of sealift for mining projects like Baffinland which is pretty big,” said Valport President Frank Dunn. “Their operations are heavily dependent on financing and the price of ore. It’s only a question of time before they ramp up production.”

The same scenario applies to Agnico Eagle Mines, a gold miner which has one operating mine and two in develop in Nunavut, an area heavily depending on the mining industry for its livelihood, Mr. Dunn noted. The company recently raised its capital spending plans into 2019, largely due to construction at its Amaruq and Meliadine mines in Nunavut, committing US$900 million between now and 2019 at Meliadine and US$330 million at Amaruq.

The port of Valleyfield is slated to receive some government financial assistance to expand its berth, said Mr. Dunn. The Iqaluit port infrastructure project could also see activity pick up for Valport in terms of project cargo heading north.