By Tom Peters

Port of Halifax will play a key role in the supply chain for two major projects in Atlantic Canada. Brazilian mining giant Vale, developer of the Voisey’s Bay project in Newfoundland and Labrador, will use Halifax as a transshipment port for finished products and to resupply its operations. 

Halifax will also be a point of entry for some materials required by Irving Shipbuilding Inc. as it builds combat vessels under the $25 billion shipbuilding contract it was awarded in 2011 under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy program.

Vale is in the process of constructing a US$2.8 billion processing plant in Long Harbour, Placentia Bay on the island portion of Newfoundland & Labrador, about 100 kilometres West of St. John’s. The plant will commence operations in 2013, said Vale spokesman Bob Carter.

“The Long Harbour plant will have the capacity to produce approximately 50,000 tonnes of nickel per year, as well as 5,000 tonnes of copper and 2,000 tonnes of cobalt. The plant will utilize a hydrometallurgical process to reduce concentrates to finished metals, which eliminates the requirement of smelting concentrates. Smelting is an environmentally damaging process which creates emissions of sulphur dioxide and dust. Port of Halifax will be the transshipment hub for the finished products produced at Long Harbour and it will eventually be the transshipment point for resupply of materials to the Voisey’s Bay mine site in Labrador,” he said. Vale will also require warehousing at the port, and the process to select warehousing facilities is underway.

The Voisey’s Bay nickel deposit, estimated to be approximately 141 million tonnes, is located approximately 350 kilometres North of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The nickel deposit was discovered in 1993 by prospectors under contract to Diamond Field Resources. Diamond Field Resources was sold to Inco in 1996 and in 2006 Vale acquired Inco.

Carter said the mine has been in production since 2005 and concentrates have been shipped to Quebec City on the ice-breaking bulk carrier MV Umiak I. The vessel makes between 10 and 12 trips annually to Quebec City carrying up to 30,000 tonnes of concentrates. From Quebec City the concentrates are transshipped to Sudbury and Thompson, Manitoba, for processing and distribution to markets.

“With the completion of the plant in Long Harbour we will be sending concentrate to Long Harbour and will phase out Quebec as a transshipment hub as materials won’t be going to Sudbury and Thompson,” Carter said. Quebec City has also been used as a resupply point for operations in Labrador, and that will also be discontinued and moved to Halifax.

Carter said the company did a thorough assessment of port options and Halifax was selected because of its connectivity to global markets. And since the processed material was being shipped to Halifax on Umiak I, it only made sense to bring resupply materials such as chemicals, food, spare parts and other items on the vessel’s backhaul from Halifax, he said.

The port’s ability to handle incoming cargo for Irving is amplified by the fact the breakbulk facility, Richmond Terminal, is next to the Irving yard and because the Richmond Terminal is presently undergoing a $73 million modernization and expansion.

“The relevance to the Irving shipbuilding project will be having a significant breakbulk, multi-purpose facility adjacent to the shipyards,” said George Malec, Halifax Port Authority’s Vice-President of Business Development and operations. “So depending on what components are coming in from overseas, they have a very good and effective logistics transportation chain right beside them. The timing of the shipbuilding project and bringing the Richmond Terminal facility online is very fortuitous indeed.”

The upgrade at Richmond is scheduled for completion in 2013 and Irving expects to start cutting steel for ships in late 2013 or early 2014. 

How much in the way of parts and components Irving will bring through Halifax has not been determined.

“There is nothing to confirm at this time until we have contract, engineering and related procurement (yet to be finalized),” said Irving’s Mary Keith.