Thanks in great part to its efforts to diversify the types of cargo it handles and the international markets it serves, the Port of Montreal moved a record 28.5 million tonnes of cargo in 2011.

Total traffic was up 10.1 per cent over the 25.9 million tonnes of cargo the port handled in 2010, and 2.4 per cent over the previous record of 27.9 million tonnes set in 2008, the last full year before the global economic crisis set in.

Traffic in all of the port’s major cargo categories – containers, liquid bulk, and dry bulk other than grain – increased in 2011.

“Not only are we a diversified port in what we handle, but now we are more diversified in the routes we serve,” said Sylvie Vachon, P­resident and CEO of the Montreal Port Authority. “The port is now connected to all six continents. We are an internationally renowned port and a leading North American intermodal centre within the global logistics chain.”

A 34-per-cent hike in petroleum products traffic, to 10.1 million tonnes from 7.5 million tonnes in 2010, was one of the main reasons for the increase in total traffic last year. The growth in this sector is mainly attributable to a switch from the supply by pipeline of crude oil to the supply by vessel of refined petroleum products in Montreal East, where the petroleum companies are located.

On the whole, liquid bulk traffic totalled 10.8 million tonnes in 2011, up 32 per cent over the previous year.

In its bread-and-butter containerized cargo sector, the port handled 12.5 million tonnes of cargo in 2011, an increase of 3.6 per cent over the previous year. The port moved 1.36 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent unit containers) last year, up 2.4 per cent over 2010.

Montreal’s container numbers are climbing back towards the record 13.5 million tonnes and 1.47 million TEUs that the port handled in 2008.

“We are satisfied with our numbers in the container sector,” Ms. Vachon said. “We must remember that those numbers were down about 14 per cent during the economic crisis.

“It is important for the port to recoup the traffic that had been coming to Montreal, and 2012 should allow us to get back to where we were before the economic crisis. We said in 2009 that it would take about three years to recuperate that traffic and our forecasts for 2012 indicate that this should be the case.”

Montreal’s container traffic growth in 2011 was driven mainly by another strong performance with the Mediterranean, a route on which volumes increased by 8.6 per cent over the previous year.

Market diversification is particularly evident in the port’s container sector, both internationally and within North America.

In 2001, Continental Europe and the United Kingdom accounted for 74 per cent of the container traffic handled at the Port of Montreal. While Northern Europe today remains the leading trade route with Montreal, the Mediterranean now accounts for 18.5 per cent of the container traffic moving through the port.

And because the port has succeeded in establishing trade links with transshipment centres in the Mediterranean and Latin America, traffic with other regions of the world continues to increase. In fact, today the point of origin or final destination of 22 per cent of the containers moving through the Port of Montreal is in Asia and the Middle East (only 2 per cent in 2001), 6 per cent in Latin America (1 per cent in 2001) and 4 per cent in Africa/ Oceania (1 per cent in 2001).

Within North America, the port serves a vast hinterland of diversified markets. Seventy per cent of the port’s containerized cargo traffic is destined for, or comes from, the Canadian market, mainly Quebec (32 per cent), Ontario (26 per cent) and Western Canada (10 per cent).

“The Port of Montreal is well positioned to handle cargo for the Canadian market and plays an important economic role within its very own region,” Ms. Vachon said.

The other 30 per cent of the port’s containerized cargo is destined for or comes from the U.S. market, mainly the Midwest (20 per cent). “And we are looking to increase our importance there,” Ms. Vachon said.

Among the other highlights of port activity in 2011, dry bulk traffic other than grain was up 7.1 per cent to 3.4 million tonnes thanks mainly to higher volumes of gypsum, scrap metal, iron ore, fertilizers and coal.

Last year was a year of transition for the port’s grain sector, which explains the 26.9-per-cent decrease in traffic in this cargo category, to 1.7 million tonnes, in 2011. But grain traffic started to rebound when agri-business company Viterra Inc. took over the operation of the port’s grain terminal last July 1. The move is expected to help consolidate and increase grain traffic at the port and allow the grain terminal to improve its competitive position.

“We are seeing that Viterra is very well positioned within the marketplace,” Ms. Vachon said.

Port officials are expecting total traffic to again increase in 2012. “Nevertheless, our business partners remain prudent,” Ms. Vachon said. “The shipping lines are cautious. Before increasing their capacity, they want to make sure the market is stable. It is obvious that some questions still remain regarding the state of the economy.”

Projects for 2012 involve the continued optimization of port lands on the Island of Montreal in order to increase container-handling capacity.

“In the last few years we have increased density within the perimeter of the port territory by reorganizing the site in order to allow us to accommodate a greater amount of containers,” Ms. Vachon said. “So far we have added space for about 300,000 containers. There are still some spaces left to convert.”

Some dry-bulk handling areas will be reconsolidated elsewhere on the port to increase container-handling capacity.

Meanwhile, the port authority is continuing environmental, feasibility and technical studies on land it owns at Contrecoeur, located downstream from Montreal, in order to be ready to handle in seven to nine years the anticipated increase in container traffic.