Now that the freeze on development at Pointe-Noire has been thawed thanks to the government purchase of Cliffs assets in the sector, officials at Port of Sept-Îles are eager to put the final touches on the facility’s multi-user wharf. The new $220-million facility has a shipping capacity of more than 50 million tonnes of iron ore, more than doubling the port’s current capacity of 40-45 MT. “It is a world-class facility and the most important infrastructure built for the Canadian iron ore industry in many years,” says Pierre Gagnon, the Port’s President and CEO.

Delivered last year, the dock is now ready to be connected with conveyors coming from the users’ storage area. The official inauguration is scheduled for next spring. Port of Sept-Îles is among the ten deepest sea ports in the world, with water depth at the dock capable of accommodating so-called Chinamax bulk carriers with deadweight tonnage as high as 400,000 DWT. “These are the largest vessels on this planet, and one of them alone can carry enough iron ore to make 200,000 cars or six (of Montreal’s) Champlain bridges,” says Gagnon. 

Funded by the federal and Quebec governments to the tune of $55 million each, plus $110 million from a consortium of five iron ore miners in the region (Alderon Iron Ore, Champion Iron Mines, Labrador Iron Mines, New Millennium Iron and Tata Steel Minerals Canada) that agreed to jointly use of the facility when its construction was announced in 2012, the new terminal features a 560-metre-long concrete trestle on steel pilings and a 425-metre-long berthing site that can accommodate two ships at a time.

The new wharf also features conveyors that are powered by energy efficient soft-start engines, as well as housed-in closed galleries that are designed to reduce noise and dust. Two giant ship loaders, each with a capacity of 8,000 tonnes an hour, were delivered to the port early last year after a 43-day voyage from China via the Panama Canal on board Happy Star, one of the world’s largest oversized cargo carriers. Unloading, along with conveyor belts and other equipment, took 17 days, the machines were assembled and installed on the new multi-user dock, and cold-commissioned last spring.

According to Gagnon, the new wharf will be a game changer once world iron-ore prices bounce back. “Canadian producers are small players that represent only 2 or 3 per cent of global demand,” he says. “But the quality of product from the Labrador Trough is higher and has fewer contaminants, meaning it’s easier and less costly to process, which allows producers to sell the product at a premium. “Being able to accommodate the largest Chinamax vessels as well as our competitors in Brazil can, will add to that premium by reducing unit freight costs up to 30-40 per cent,” adds Gagnon.