By Tom Peters

The ever-evolving international marine trade, with its rate and capacity challenges, is continuing its upward trend in container cargo over the Port of Halifax. Container throughput was up 19.6 per cent in the first six months of 2016 with 235,363 TEU.

“Terminal operators, CN, labour, carriers and shippers have shown tremendous effort and their efforts are paying off. The port community continues to see positive cargo results,” said Karen Oldfield, President and CEO, Halifax Port Authority.

In addition to solid port stakeholder teamwork, Oldfield sees other reasons for the growth.

“In addition to favourable currency exchange, there are three common denominators contributing to the positive trend we are currently seeing, and those are hard work, cooperation and planning,” said Oldfield. “As Canada’s ultra-Atlantic Gateway, there is room for import and export growth through the port. There is capacity at the terminals and as a result of new and expanded services through Halifax, there is available slot capacity so as a port community we need to continue working together to utilize that capacity,” she said. “The Port of Halifax is working closely with supply chain partners to minimize transit times, reduce operating costs, mitigate risks and add value to those customers moving goods through Halifax,” she noted.

However, even as container cargo continues its upward momentum through the port, the focus on growth must remain strong.

“Challenging global economic conditions continue and everyone needs to keep working hard to maintain this momentum,” said Oldfield. “Our partners and stakeholders know they have to keep pushing forward. Global shipping is a moving target. There are several variables in play at any given time – international currency valuation, political stability, route efficiency and availability, carrier capacity and fuel prices, are some of the global factors,” Oldfield said. On the more immediate front, “manufacturing output, population growth, available labour, infrastructure and supply chain capacity are among the local considerations. As a port authority, we study long term trends to understand how global factors will impact us locally and make decisions that will create the conditions for growth and development,” Oldfield cited.

The long term trends and global factors also pertain to how cargoes are transported and routed as carriers and cargo owners constantly look for efficiencies.

“In general terms, we expect to see larger vessels deployed along the East Coast of North America thanks to the new Panama Canal (larger third lock), the second lane of the Suez Canal and ongoing mergers and alliances among shipping companies,” said Oldfield. “Halifax has everything in place – depth, infrastructure and capacity – to accept larger vessels. We are actively working to connect Central Canada and the Midwestern United States to South East Asia via the Suez Canal, so Toronto, Detroit, Chicago and Indianapolis to the Pearl River Delta area of China,” she added.

Referencing the arrival of larger container vessels, the big ships have been sailing into Halifax Harbour for many years. In July 1998, the Regina Maersk, with a capacity of 6,200 TEU, arrived in Halifax, the largest container ship up until that time. It was a sign and the start of a new era.

Several years ago the port started preparing for the arrival of larger cargo vessels. The port authority worked with key tenants and stakeholders to develop the infrastructure to accommodate these large vessels, at least twice the size of the Regina Maersk. Development included longer and deeper piers, upgraded truck gates and marshalling areas for efficiency and the terminal operators invested in super post-Panamax cranes that could reach across 22 containers.

The big ship preparation showed strong foresight.

“We are now seeing the outcomes of strategic long-term planning. Last August, the first of the 8,000+ TEU vessels arrived and the size has been increasing. We are currently receiving vessels over 9,400 TEU,” Oldfield stated.

Going forward and looking at other aspects of port operations, Oldfield said similar analysis and planning has taken place in terms of non-containerized cargo, cruise and real estate.

“We are now setting our sights on the next five to ten years. We are in the early stages of a master planning exercise as we prepare for the arrival of “ultra large” containerized vessels of over 10,000 TEU, large scale industrial mega projects, increasing larger cruise vessels and how the Halifax Seaport district can complement the urban growth and revitalization currently underway in downtown Halifax and Dartmouth,” she said.