After a record revenue year in 2017, the port of Saint John is on track for another solid year, says Jim Quinn, President and CEO, Port Saint John (PSJ).

Last year PSJ had revenues of $22.2 million and “we are past the half way point for 2018 and all indications are we will have a very strong year financially and tonnage wise,” Quinn said.

In 2017, the port handled 30.4 million metric tonnes of cargo, an increase of 15% over 2016 and maintained its position as Canada’s third largest port by tonnage. All cargo sectors, except for containers, posted increases.

Reviewing several cargo sectors, Quinn said “the success in the potash category was significant last year” as the port handled 1.4 million metric tonnes in 2017.

The potash is mined in Saskat­chewan by the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan and railed to the Port of Saint John where the company has a terminal. The corporation produced potash at its mine near Sussex, N.B. but suspended operations at that facility in early 2016 because of what was described at the time as global market forces.

However, Quinn said the potash terminal in Saint John is “an important component of their overall strategy and that terminal does give them ready access to Brazil which is the main market.” But looking to the future, Quinn anticipates the demand for potash will continue to increase and demands will increase in other markets such as Africa. The strategic location in Saint John will give the potash corporation good access into that Africa market and certainly into Europe as well.

Quinn said if the potash flow into the port continues at the current rate, he anticipates the port will handle another million metric tonnes this year.

The recycled metals sector experienced its biggest year at the port last year, said Quinn. “This year is continuing to be strong but that market is subject to volatility with commodity prices up and down.”

Salt continues to be another significant bulk commodity for the port but as an import and not an export. Salt was a byproduct of potash mining but since the closure of the potash mine, salt is now imported at Lower Cove Terminal.

“In preparation for the coming winter, there have been three ships in already and the salt piles will continue to grow,” Quinn said. He further explained that the salt is used on icy roads over the winter in our region.

Liquid bulk remains a steadfast cargo with the port handling 28 million metric tonnes in 2017. Last year imports of crude and exports of refined products were maintained at expected levels.

In the container sector, the port continues to readjust after Tropical Shipping departed in late 2016. In 2017 the port handled 57,402 TEUs, down from 90,262 in 2016.

Ongoing recovery in this sector was strengthened by the addition of CMA CGM in August of 2017. The line’s weekly CAGEMA service calls at several U.S. East Coast ports and its Kingston, Jamaica hub.

The addition of CMA CGM to Saint John was led by new terminal operator DP World who began operations at PSJ’s west side terminals in January of 2017.

“A key to success in container growth at this port is increasing import traffic. This year we have noticed that our import container traffic is growing with CMA CGM’s service and there is opportunity for further growth,” he said.

MSC is also a key player in PSJ container services and is now in its sixth year at the port. “MSC continues to be a valued partner, particularly in exports,” Quinn added.

The CEO expects TEU numbers will slowly rebound, especially with growing imports, balancing the port’s container trade.

Quinn said another sector showing promise is project cargo and, particularly, renewable energy projects. Port Saint John continues to be the ideal staging area for renewable energy projects, and recently received a shipment of wind mills bound for a new wind farm near Moncton.

The port’s growth over the years has prompted PSJ to consider a new in-depth economic impact study. The last study was done a decade ago and Quinn said there will be consideration in the port’s budget to have the study done in 2019.

“Overall the port is in an excellent position,” Quinn said, “and we continue to look to the future and working with our partner DP World and our other port stakeholders to grow the port and its business.”