By Brian Dunn

Although the town of Sept-Îles has a population of only 25,000, it punches above its weight in maritime shipping and is one of the bigger terminal operations for Quebec Stevedoring Co. Ltd. (QSL) which has 30 port facilities, stretching from St. John’s in the east to Chicago in the west.

It’s not only mining that drives QSL, although it accounts for the bulk of its business in Sept-Îles, according to QSL CEO Robert Bellisle who noted the company will be celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2018.

Privately-owned QSL has a total of some 1,300 employees throughout its network, including about 80 in Sept-Îles. Total annual tonnage handled is around 22 million tonnes of bulk and break-bulk cargo on 1,000 vessels serviced. Sept-Îles accounts for close to 8 per cent of the totals in both cases, or roughly 1.7 million tonnes on 80 vessels. “We’re a logistics company that offers stevedoring and terminal services,” Mr. Bellisle pointed out. “We also have our own engineering department so we can offer tailor-made services to clients and we build our own warehouses. When we call a customer, we can offer them technical and logistics expertise in addition to our other services.” QSL has a strong culture of innovation, developing its own software tracking and bulk inventory tracking systems, among other initiatives.

The company has been active in the Côte Nord region since 2009 handling project cargo and construction materials at its terminals in Sept-Îles, Havre-Saint-Pierre, Port Cartier and Baie Comeau. One of its major mining clients is Aluminerie Alouette which announced plans in 2011 to boost capacity by more than 60 per cent (to 930,000 tonnes from 575,000 tonnes per year) over the next 10 to 15 years after signing a new low-cost power deal with the Hydro-Québec.

“A large percentage of our business is in mining and mill services such as operating storage facilities and programming of robotics for inventory planning,” said Mr. Bellisle. “We handle raw materials, semi-finished and finished products and bulk cargo for mining companies. We consolidate the bulk cargo to get it to the mines in a timely matter. We’re looking at the consolidation of logistics, because while shipping is an important component of operations, it’s not the only one.”

Since Sept-Îles is an important terminal for the shipment of minerals, QSL is working closely with Plan Nord

subsidiary Société ferroviaire et portuaire de Pointe-Noire (SFPPN) by offering technical and engineering solutions to improve their operations. SFPPN is a limited partnership that operates a 38 kilometres railroad linking the railroad from Pointe-Noire near Sept-Îles to Labrador and owns storage facilities near the port as well as a six million tonne iron ore pellet plant, among other operations. Other opportunities may arise under Quebec’s Plan Nord which is beginning to take shape. Last April, for example, Tata Steel Minerals Canada and Quebec Iron Ore Inc., a subsidiary of Champion Iron Limited, became partners in SFPPN to manage and develop the industrial facilities at Pointe-Noire. And in September, the government published the results of a feasibility study for a third rail link from Sept-Îles to improve access to the Labrador Trough, Canada’s largest iron ore production region. The report concluded that the line would be viable if a minimum of 40 million tonnes of minerals were extracted from the trough annually.

QSL is also active in the local Chamber of Commerce and in SODES (St. Lawrence Economic Development Council) where Mr. Bellisle sits on the Board. In addition, the company hopes to benefit from Quebec’s Maritime Strategy which aims to create more than 30,000 new jobs and encourage public and private investments of roughly $9 billion by 2030.

QSL continues to stay on top of health and safety issues throughout its network which is paramount to the success of the company, said Mr. Bellisle. “We’re not successful unless workers leave at the end of the day the way they came in. On the business side, our focus is to continue to grow and offer more and more services to our customers.”