By Tom Peters

The next generation of container vessels to call Halifax from Asia via the Suez Canal arrived in early August. The Port of Halifax handled two super post-Panamax vessels, CMA CGM Vivaldi, with an 8,478 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) capacity and Hapag-Lloyd’s Budapest Express, part of the G6 Alliance, with a capacity of7 8,749 TEU. Other G6 Alliance members include APL, Hyundai Merchant Marine, MOL, NYK Line and OOCL.

These container vessels now calling Halifax are part of the industry’s “work horse” fleet in the 8,500-TEU range, which are expected to become a more familiar sight in Halifax and in other Atlantic Coast ports. The G6 Alliance is now making an outbound call, in addition to the existing inbound call in Halifax on its AZX Service (Asia Suez Express). This is in addition to the PA1 North Asia-Panama-North Europe pendulum service. The G6 Alliance calls at the Fairview Cove Container Terminal operated by Ceres-Halifax, four times per week.

The Ocean Three Alliance which includes CMA CGM, China Shipping and United Arab Shipping Company (UASC) has added Halifax as a first port of call to its Asia – North America service (Columbus-AAE1-AUC1) via the Suez Canal, linking Halifax to ports in South China (Hong Kong and Yantian), Vietnam (Vung Tau) and Malaysia (Port Kelang). This new service calls at the South End Container Terminal in Halifax operated by Halterm Container Terminal Limited. Halterm also handles ZIM’s North Asia Panama Canal ZCP service.

Getting these big ships to call Halifax and being ready when they arrived took years of planning and preparation, says George Malec, Vice-President, Business Development and Operations, Halifax Port Authority. The process involved three complementary elements. “You first look at your strategic business plan and understand very clearly what the industry trends are, what trade lanes you are most relevant on and how to position yourself to be player on those trade lanes,” and this strategic planning, research and analysis “ties into your infrastructure and capital expenditure projects,” he said.

HPA’s major, multi-million dollar infrastructure projects in recent years have included lengthening berths at both Ceres and Halterm, dredging to ensure sufficient water depth alongside, and building high-tech truck marshalling gates. The two terminal operators, “key partners in the process,” said Malec, have also invested in super post-Panamax cranes with sufficient outreach and the supporting infrastructure required for handling the ships.

The next element of the process was to ensure the navigational aspects in the harbour were properly addressed. Working with Atlantic Pilotage Authority and harbour pilots, HPA carried out navigation and safety tests and pilot training to make sure these large vessels could maneuver safely in the harbour and, in particular, through the harbour narrows and under the two Halifax bridges.

The third element is the business plan itself, “working with the terminal operators and CN to make our business case to the operators of these bigger vessels,” Malec said. At the end of the day, he said, “everyone in the supply chain from HPA to terminal operators, CN, trucking companies and port labour has to come together.” In addition, he said the operator of the 8,000 TEU ship has to have a valid commercial reason to deploy that vessel into Halifax as part of an overall port rotation.

“So those three elements are essential. The research and planning tied to our infrastructure, navigation and safety, and the commitment of partners who actually provide the services and critical costs to make the whole thing successful,” Malec said.

And further to getting the vessels to call Halifax is ensuring there will always be enough cargo to keep those larger ships calling. To keep the ships coming is “really a lot of different segments working together,” said Malec, including the vessel operator and their agents looking for cargo, a good rate structure with the railway and trucking companies, and high productivity.

It is certainly a concerted team effort “to attract those 8,000 plus TEU ships here to Halifax and to keep us relevant on a sailing stream to the East Coast of North America. So there are a lot of players working in unison and towards a common goal and that is to provide more opportunity for that shipping line,” Malec said. Also critical to the port and to cargo owners is how larger vessels provide an opportunity for more slots on a regular basis, “and our challenge as a port community with CN, with labour, the terminals and everyone in the supply chain, is to make that commercially viable, and continue to grow that business to get more slots and more traffic through the port,” Malec added.

One of the potential areas for cargo growth over Halifax is the upcoming Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union. Predictions are the agreement, expected to be in place by late 2016 or early 2017, will boost trade between the two regions by as much as 22 per cent. Malec said HPA pays close attention to agreements like CETA “to understand the opportunities they present to carriers that call Halifax and to increase their business model.”

HPA has already carried out several “outreach development trips” with port stakeholders and the Halifax Gateway Council to Northern Europe promoting CETA. HPA is working to align its efforts with the province as well in order to support the provincial CETA strategy and complement the overall Atlantic Gateway concept, Malec added.

With infrastructure projects in place, willing partners and available capacity, the potential for growth is clear. Halifax Port Authority will continue to work collaboratively across all business lines to create new opportunities for business development.