Port Saint John recently completed an expansion project that will expand its capacity to handle cool cargoes. “We actually last year invested in additional reefer stacks, or reefer plugins, to support that ability to have a secure cold chain,” said Shannon Blanchard, the Port’s Director of Supply Chain Innovation.
The port’s container terminal, operated by DP World, now has 481 reefer plugs. Nearly 200 new ones were added as part of a $205 million modernization project that is slated for completion in the first quarter of 2023. “It was one of the first components of the modernization project that was completed,” Ms. Blanchard explained.
In April, Hapag-Lloyd announced an additional call to the port. It will be “the exclusive North American call” on a rotation connecting with Antwerp and Hamburg. “It’s going to be sort of an express call or sprint call,” Ms. Blanchard said. “The transit times connecting both on the east and west bound will be very competitive for all shippers and receivers here in Canada and U.S.”
Last year, Hapag-Lloyd started a west-bound service to Saint John from the Mediterranean, which Ms. Blanchard characterized as “a test track because we didn’t have a relationship or call with Hapag before and quickly realized that there were great opportunities for expanding on their existing service.”
IMPROVED RAIL ACCESS
While it’s not confirmed what ships will sail on the new service, Ms. Blanchard said they will be container vessels in the 4,000 to 6,000 TEU range. Since the new service hasn’t started, she wasn’t able to speculate either on what proportion of those containers would be reefers. However, she did say that “the enhanced reefer capacity definitely was put in place to support additional reefer volumes to our facilities.”
The new service comes on the heels of Canadian Pacific Railway regaining access to Port Saint John through the acquisition of the Central Maine & Quebec Railway in June 2020. “This vital link to Port Saint John provides the shortest route between Atlantic Canada and North American inland markets, including a 269-mile advantage over our competition to Montreal, Toronto and Chicago, creating value for shippers across North America,” CP said in an April 25 news release announcing the new Hapag-Lloyd service. “This seasonal product will be particularly beneficial in connecting customers in inland locations in the U.S. Midwest and throughout Canada with key North European ports,” the news release quoted Uffe Ostergaard, President of Hapag-Lloyd Americas.
Matthew Leech, CEO and managing director for DP World’s Americas Region, said in the release that the service would strengthen both the global supply chain and sustainable regional economic growth. “As an end-to-end logistics solutions provider, DP World Saint John has ample capacity to provide reliable, congestion-free service for carriers and shippers,” he said.
Back in 2017, Tropical Shipping moved its operations to Halifax, citing the lack of rail service at Saint John. Asked if the port might try to woo Tropical Shipping back, Ms. Blanshard said, “We welcome and have regular discussions with very collaborative ways with all of our logistics chain partners, and welcome commercial discussions on all opportunities. So, yes, we are very open to discussing the addition of many different service options to provide more direct connections into various parts of the world.”
Also since 2017, container line CMA CGM has had a weekly call at Saint John that also serves Central and South America and the Caribbean. Once, again Ms. Blanchard couldn’t discuss what commodities might be imported from that part of the world because of its commercial sensitivity. “There are a lot of products that would be in kind of the fruit and vegetable stream,” she said. “But there’s also a wide variety of commodities that are moving from that market into St. John, not just perishables.. As a port authority, we always right-size our infrastructure to support a diverse handling of different types of cargoes within our container business,” Ms. Blanchard said. “So we’re in line to support whatever types of cargo shipping lines are looking to either bring in or export from those regions.”
When one thinks of Central America, bananas spring to mind. In 2021, according to the Canadian government’s Trade Data Online, New Brunswick imported $21.8 million worth of bananas. About two-thirds of those bananas came from Guatemala. Canada as a whole imported $575 million worth of bananas, again mostly from Guatemala. In 2020, bananas were Canada’s second most imported fruit, after grapes.
On the rail side, Saint John also has a long-standing relationship with Canadian National, which connects to the port with the shortline New Brunswick and Maine railway, a.k.a. NBM. The port is also excited about the recent acquisition by Class 1 railway CSX of the shortline Pan Am railway that links Saint John with New England communities. “It’ll give us very much a flexible inland connectivity with these three Class 1 railroads that we’re super pleased to have because on the Atlantic side of our country we’re the only port that has that optionality,” Ms. Blanchard said. It will also give shippers an option of using Saint John when ports in places like New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia are congested. “Shippers and receivers are always looking at optionality and how they can create a more fluid supply chain,” she said. In anticipation of that, the port has a submitted a proposal for what it calls an “enhanced modernization” that will increase its annual container capacity to 800,000 TEUs from its current 325,000 TEUs. “That project would work alongside the same timeline as the initial modernization project with completion in 2024, Ms. Blanchard said.