Bigger vessels, increasing cargo tonnages and more containers are adding up to busy times at the port of Halifax. Both container terminals at the port are reporting increases, a trend that has been ongoing for the past 24 months.

Statistics released by Halifax Port Authority for the second quarter show the port handled 144,000 TEUs, up 19 per cent over the same quarter in 2016 and up 17 per cent year-to-date. Import cargo increased 19.9 per cent over 2016 and export cargo was up 18.9 per cent in the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2016.

Import container tonnage was 929,000 MT, up 10.9 per cent year-to-date, and export tonnage grew 14.9 per cent on a year-to-date basis, to 1,301,000 MT.

Port wide, at both HPA and non-HPA facilities, total cargo increases show 2.1 million MT of import cargo, up 3.1 per cent and 2.1 million MT of export cargo, up 9 per cent in the first half of the year, compared to the same period in 2016.

“When you look at the Q2 numbers, you can see how that growth trend is continuing,” said HPA’s Lane Farguson. “It is certainly good news for cargo,” and he anticipates the growth to continue through the third quarter and likely beyond.

Although the increases have created some challenges for the port’s workforce, Halifax Employers Association (HEA) “is very pleased with the double-digit increases in the tonnage volume going through the port over the last couple of years, approximately 18.5 per cent in 2016 and 11.4 per cent in the first of half of 2017,” said HEA President and CEO Richard Moore. “While the industry is still highly competitive for the shipping lines, the increase in the workload has created many challenges for us as we ramp up to meet the increased demand for labour,” he said. However, Moore added that because of the tonnage increases, “Our employees benefit from greater earnings potential, increased contributions to their pension and welfare fund, plus the economic spinoffs to the local economy are also significant.”

The increased workload brought on by the larger vessels calling the port plus new and expanded cargo services has meant an increase in hiring by HEA.

“HEA has invested a significant amount of resources into attracting and hiring new employees into the longshore industry in conjunction with the Council of ILA Locals for Port of Halifax,” said Moore. “In addition we have, by necessity, ramped up skills training for existing employees, to backfill behind those employees who have retired from the industry or are working fewer hours as they age. By staggering the training for new hires we have been able to reduce the overall time required to provide the required training without jeopardizing safety,” he said.

The Fairview Cove Terminal, operated by Ceres, has experienced both cargo growth and bigger vessels. Calvin Whidden, President, Ceres Halifax Inc. said, “Ceres has experienced double-digit growth in container volume in 2017 year-to-date over the same period in 2016. THE Alliance (NYK Line, MOL, K-Line, Hapag-Lloyd, Yang Ming) remains strong and Atlantic Container Line increased its container volume through Halifax utilizing its new, larger vessels.”

On June 29 of this year, Halifax began a new chapter in large ships with the arrival of ZIM Antwerp, the first ultra-large container vessel to call the port with a capacity of over 10,000 TEUs. HPA President and CEO Karen Oldfield called the arrival of the ZIM Antwerp an exciting day for both the Port and province.

“With the arrival of the first vessel over 10,000 TEU, Halifax is taking part in the next stage in international shipping along the East Coast of North America,” said Ms. Oldfield. “I would like to recognize the hard work of all involved including Halterm, Zim, our rail carrier CN, and the ILA. I would also like to thank Atlantic Pilotage Authority and Atlantic Towing for their dedication to safety in preparing to effectively handle vessels of this size,” she said.

Halterm has been preparing for the big ships and was more than ready to service the ZIM Antwerp. “We have invested and continue to invest in the equipment, people and services required to handle the larger ships that have followed the widening of the Panama Canal,” said Kim Holtermand, Halterm’s Chief Executive Officer. “We have the capability and determination among a dedicated workforce to meet the opportunity for growth that these vessels represent in serving Eastern Canada and the arrival of Zim Antwerp at Halterm plays to our strengths as a deep-water, big ship international container terminal,” Mr. Holtermand said.

The trickledown effect of more cargo has meant the need for additional rail cars. CN’s Patrick Waldron says CN has responded to increases in demand by supplying more cars, and will continue to do so as required.

For the Port of Halifax, cooperation and collaboration is a key element of the growth trend in containerized cargo. “Changes in the Halifax-based Carrier alliances have been very positive for Halterm, with new interest from Evergreen and the introduction of both OOCL and APL volumes,” said Kim Holtermand. “With very little hard information ahead of time on cargo-flow, there is inevitably a period of adjustment, but with all parties focused on maintaining Halifax’s and Halterm Container Terminal’s lead in capturing new business, CN has been integral to the success of the routing, reflected in the growth achieved by so many customers this year.”

Cruise in Halifax is also experiencing the benefits that come with larger vessels. On the same day that Halterm played host to the Zim Antwerp, the Royal Caribbean International Anthem of the Seas returned to the Port of Halifax. At 348 metres length and with passenger capacity of just under 4200 cruise guests, she is the largest cruise vessel to call on Halifax, helping the port toward an anticipated record-breaking year in terms of overall passenger count.