In January 2017, DP World, the fourth largest marine terminal operator in the world, took over terminal operations in the port of Saint John under a long-term lease and from Curtis Doiron’s vantage point, “overall it’s been a positive experience.”
“We’re not without a commercial challenge but we continue to focus on capturing more volume through our terminal and doing so in collaboration with our shipping line partners and the Saint John Port Authority,” said DP World’s General Manager in Saint John.
The challenge Doiron referred to happened in late 2016 when Tropical Shipping, which accounted for approximately 45,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) or nearly half of Saint John’s container volume, announced it was moving its weekly service to the Port of Halifax.
However, Saint John responded to the Tropical loss when the French line, CMA CGM, the third largest container line in the world, began its weekly Cagema service moving cargo over to several US East Coast ports and its Kingston, Jamaica hub. CMA CGM joined long-time customer, MSC, which moves cargo over its hub in Freeport, Bahamas and the BAHRI Line, which has a monthly ro/ro, container service over Saint John.
But Doiron, despite the setback, takes a positive reflection on the past 18 months or so.
“During that time there has been a number of initiatives underway. Our focus is to grow and diversify our business here,” he said. “We’ve seen success with the addition of the CMA CGM Cagema service which certainly has been positive for our business. We have also seen consistency and support from MSC and they continue to provide a very good level of service to the regional shipping community that uses them,” he added. And BAHRI Line, with its diverse ro/ro container cargo mix, has been attracting more business on its service, said Doiron.
The DP World general manager noted that the Cagema service, in particular, has brought an interesting change in the port’s container cargo flow over the Rodney Terminal.
“From August  to December we have focused on diversifying our export business. We’re handling cargo destined for as close as New York City to as far as Asia,” he said, adding that MSC as well, has been has been carrying a good mix of reefer and dry cargo to U.S. East Coast ports and the Caribbean.
“But we have seen, since December, a very regular consistent growth, week-after-week on import activity on both the Cagema service and MSC as well,” Doiron said. “This has been net new business for Saint john with cargo originating from as far away as Australia going to as far as Edmonton. So it has helped to create balance from an intermodal perspective for both import and export which is important. It also opened us to a whole new market, something we had not participated in during the past. Much of the import cargo we are handling originates from South America, consisting of a wide variety of cargo from reefer produce and meat to machinery and parts. With very few exceptions it’s all going into the Montreal and Toronto marketplace,” Doiron said.
An important infrastructure component for the port has been its rail connections offered by both CN and the New Brunswick and Southern Railway (NBSR). It was critical in attracting CMA CGM, said Doiron.
He said there was a definite need to develop a competitive intermodal product so in 2017, DP World and the port spent a great deal of time working with CN and their local shortline operator NBSR to “shore up that significant strategic pillar. We worked collaboratively and quite extensively to produce what we feel is a competitive product that was critical to attract intermodal container business to Saint John” he said.
A sidebar note of interest, having that all important rail in place, set stage for a special cargo movement in late 2017. CMA CGM was approached by one of its key customers to move cargo from Canada to hurricane devastated Puerto Rico.
“It entailed 100% intermodal freight coming from as far as Western Canada on a weekly pendulum service, two ships operating for about eight weeks,” said Doiron. The cargo movement involved daily rail service, seven days a week, in some cases with full intermodal loads and included a mix of reefer and dry products.
It was an interesting project, said Doiron, and it was “brought to us because we worked closely with CN and CMA CGM to make the Cagema a real success. It was a shot in the arm and demonstrated what CMA CGM, CN, and their customers thought of our commitment and capabilities in Saint John. We were pleased we pulled it off in short notice and as result, December was the highest container lift month in the port’s history,” he added.
The DP World spokesman praised the entire DP World and port staff, especially port labor, for stepping up at that critical time.
“We’ve had a good experience working with ILA Local 273.They have been a very engaged stakeholder in our time here and they see lot of value in what we are trying to accomplish. We have seen that play out on the waterfront and have seen consistent improvements in productivity and they stepped up when we had that significant cargo volume at the end of the year,” said Doiron.
In addition to growing cargo volumes, DP World is also looking at diversifying its Saint John business and add more value for its customers.
“We are fortunate to have a significant amount of infrastructure within our leased facility,” Doiron said. “We have 370,000-square-feet of warehousing space so we’ve been able to leverage that,” with the consolidation and de-consolidation of containers.
Doiron said there are not a great deal of terminals that have those warehousing capabilities under the same facility and it “certainly has helped us add more value while improving our bottom line.”
In its short time in Saint John, DP World has invested approximately $18 million in new equipment to improve and modernize cargo movement on its terminal. That investment in equipment will likely increase when the port’s $205 million modernization program is complete and DP World takes over the operation of the new facilities. DP World has been involved in that process in a consulting and advisory role, working with the port as it designs and builds new infrastructure.
In the meantime, DP World will continue to work with its present services to make them the best they can be but also attract new lines and services when the opportunities arise.