By Alex Binkley
Note: As at press time, Port Metro Vancouver had not yet reported final tonnage numbers. Accordingly, Canadian Sailings estimated full year results for Vancouver based on extrapolations of 2014 results to the end of November.
For Canada’s two largest diversified ports, Vancouver and Montreal, 2014 was a year of strong results. For the rest, it was a year of up and down numbers, a reflection of the uneven performance of the Canadian economy. Overall volumes of 311.2 million tonnes were virtually identical to 2013 volumes, and represented an annual compound growth rate of only 2.1 per cent since 2010. Vancouver’s compound growth rate during the period was 4.7 per cent annually, while the remaining 17 ACPA Ports exhibited combined growth of 0.5 per cent annually. By way of comparison, rail carrier CP’s annual growth rate of revenue tonne miles during the same period was 4.3 per cent, while CN’s was 6.7 per cent.
Based on our estimates, Port Metro Vancouver saw its cargo figures surge past its 2013 total of 135 million tonnes to over 140 million tonnes. The port’s annual results put it in a league of its own with more freight than the next top six ports combined – Montreal, Quebec City, Saint John, Sept-Îles, Prince Rupert, and Hamilton, representing almost 45 per cent of the combined volumes of all federally-operated ports.
Port Metro Vancouver cruised along on the back of strong shipments of containers and grain, chemicals, metals and minerals, coal and fertilizers. On the negative side, forest and petroleum products and processed food shipments all slipped.
Port of Montreal posted a strong 8.1 per cent increase to 30.4 million tonnes up from 2013 propelled by healthy jumps in dry bulk and non-containerized shipments. However a 5.7 per cent rise in container movements accounted for most of the year over year increase.
Quebec Port Authority reported it handled 24 million tonnes of cargo during 2014, representing a drop of 11.4 per cent compared with 2013 volumes, and significantly below the 32.5 million tonnes handled in 2012. Like Montreal and the Great Lakes ports, Quebec said it had felt the impact of the one month delay in the start of navigation on the Seaway-Great Lakes because of the heavy ice accumulation during the winter. “The general slowdown in the raw materials industry, especially iron ore and other by-products, also played a decisive role in 2014.” It did post a 40 per cent increase in grain shipments.
As for Sept-Îles, caught between significantly lower international prices for iron ore and rising costs of production, Cliffs Natural Resources idled its Scully, Wabush mine in February of 2014, idled its Pointe Noire pelletizing plant in March, and ceased production from its giant Bloom Lake mine at the end of 2014. In addition, Labrador Iron Mines suspended its mining activities in 2014. Accordingly, volumes shipped from terminals in Sept-Îles declined by 14.2 per cent from its 2013 volume of 27 million tonnes.
Saint John, its rival for No. 4 port in Canada, saw some bright spots in increases in containerized and dry bulk shipments but overall finished at 23.9 million tonnes compared to 27.6 million tonnes in 2013, the lowest result during the last five years. The port’s liquid bulk business in petroleum and LNG is its main activity and it accounted for most of the decline along with lower potash movements. Its container handling passed 565,000 tonnes (90,000 TEUs) compared to 497,000 the previous year.
Port of Prince Rupert saw its total traffic crop drop by 10.3 per cent during 2014 to 20.7 million tonnes. Strong performances in the container, grain and biofuel sectors were insufficient to compensate for decreases in coal and log shipments. Fairview Container Terminal moved 618,167 TEUs of containerized cargo, representing more than a 15 per cent increase over 2013. The terminal has experienced consistent year-over-year growth in volumes since it opened in 2007.
Port of Hamilton posted a 5 per cent increase to 10.5 million tonnes during 2014 including a 39% increase in overseas tonnage, its best in a decade. That represented about one-fifth of its traffic. Shipments of agricultural commodities have grown steadily in recent years accounting for more than 19 per cent of its traffic.
Thunder Bay handled 9.3 million tonnes of cargo compared to 6.5 million tonnes in 2013. The 2013 backlog of Western grain that needed to be moved was by far the brightest spot as shipments of coal, potash and liquid bulk declined. General cargo and other dry bulk rose over the previous year.
Halifax saw its tonnage decline 7.8 million tonnes, down 9 per cent from 2013 with its poorest results during the last five years. Container traffic fell by more than 40,000 tonnes while other business rose by almost 80,000 tonnes. The result marked the fifth consecutive year of traffic drops.
Windsor saw its traffic fall by 9.9 per cent to about 5.4 million tonnes because of a drop in aggregates delivered to the port for the construction of a major parkway. However, the port’s overall volume remained within the five year average for the port and about 1 per cent better than its ten-year average. Salt, general cargo, grain and petroleum experienced sold gains in the range of 25 to 60 per cent.
Among the smaller ports, Trois-Rivières enjoyed a record year reaching 3.7 million tonnes, one million higher than 2013 and 400,000 better than its previous record set in 2012. This increase is the result of a strong rise in dry bulk traffic, especially grain, which reached 3.3 million tonnes.
Nanaimo Port Authority finished the year at 4.1 million tonnes, up 21 per cent from the 3.4 million tonnes moved in 2013. In 2009, it handled 1.5 million tonnes and has grown steadily since then. Log shipments of just over two million tonnes and forest products cargo of 1.3 million tonnes accounted for the bulk of its business along 356,000 tonnes of petroleum products and 301,000 tonnes of containers.
Port Alberni Port Authority saw its traffic slip by 8.7 per cent to 1.7 million tonnes from 1.8 million tonnes in 2013. However the result was still well above the five year average.
Port of Oshawa recorded a 22.5 increase in traffic to 357,125 tonnes compared to 291,613 the year before, due to new and expanded facilities. Port of Saguenay climbed 4.9 per cent to 280,097 tonnes but remained below the business levels from 2009 through 2012.
Port of Belledune recorded a small decline in volumes, but looks forward to increased volumes in 2015 and further diversification into new business in 2016. Port of St. Johns saw its volumes decline by about 6.5 per cent, but is still well above its five-year average.