By Alex Binkley
Port Metro Vancouver and Prince Rupert Port Authority posted healthy tonnage increases during 2013 while results at East Coast and Great Lakes ports mostly fell compared to 2012.
Trade with the booming economies of Asia made all the difference for the West Coast ports, whose combined volumes rose by 8.3 per cent to 163.3 million tonnes. By far the country’s busiest port, Vancouver saw its traffic grow to just over 135 million tonnes from 123.9 million tonnes during 2012, which represents about 44 per cent of Canada’s total seaborne trade.
Prince Rupert, the six busiest port in the country, saw shipments increase to 23.1 million tonnes last year compared to 22.3 million tonnes during 2012 even though its container traffic dropped.
On the East Coast, combined volumes dropped by 5.7 per cent to 149.9 million tonnes. Montreal Port Authority claimed the No. 2 spot nationally even though its traffic slipped to 28.2 million tonnes in 2013 from 28.4 million tonnes in 2012.
Sept-Îles finished third, Saint John fourth and Quebec City fifth, less than one million tonnes apart and not far behind Montreal. Quebec had the largest tonnage drop—5.3 million tonnes, from 32.5 million tonnes to 27.1 million tonnes.
Hamilton came in seventh, followed in the top 10 by Halifax, Thunder Bay and Windsor, which posted a 10.5 per cent increase in tonnage. It and St. John’s were the only eastern ports to record increases in 2013.
Overall, Vancouver achieved a 9 per cent increase in business during 2013 including record volumes in the container and bulk sectors. Robin Silvester, Port President and CEO, said, “Looking to the future, we remain firmly committed to facilitating Canada’s trade, environmental stewardship, improved reliability, enhanced customer value, and improving the quality of life of British Columbians and Canadians through enabling economic activity.” Increased demand for Canadian products, an ongoing transition to a consumer-based economy in China, and economic recovery in Asia have fuelled the continued growth of Canadian trade through the port, he said. Leading the way for the port was a 10.7 per cent increase in bulk cargoes such as grain, coal and petroleum products. Container movements rose 4 per cent to a record of 2.8 million TEUs. The port attributed the rise to the increased export of Prairie grains, oilseeds, pulses and lentils in containers and rising imports of consumer products. Breakbulk shipments rose 2 per cent to 17 million tonnes, driven by increased exports of raw logs.
Melanie Nadeau, spokeswoman for Montreal Port Authority, said preliminary results show shipments dropped by 266,000 tonnes or 0.9 per cent from 2012. “The main reason for the declines seems to be the economic uncertainty in Europe.” The port saw liquid bulk shipments fall about 1.7 per cent and containers by 0.9 per cent, while dry bulk rose by 0.2 per cent. Nadeau said the port “has great expectations for this year. We hope to see a surge in Prairie grain shipments. As well, overall economic prospects for North America are better than last year.”
Volumes handled in Sept-Îles last year were 280,000 tonnes below the 2012 figure, but still well above the three years before that. Pierre Gagnon, Port President and CEO, noted that it gained a new client, Tata Steel Minerals Canada (TSMC), which shipped 240,276 tons of iron ore using the facilities of the mining company Rio Tinto IOC. Traffic through the port should increase this year with the opening this summer of a new $220 million dock designed to serve the iron ore industry. The highlight of the year for the port was the arrival of the first Chinamax vessel, which loaded 302,264 million tonnes of iron ore from the Cliffs Natural Resources Lake Bloom mine. Gagnon says the shipment marked “the opening of our port to the next generation of giant iron ore vessels.”
Saint John felt the ups and downs of international trade as it finished the year 83,700 tonnes below its 2012 results. Jim Quinn, Port President and CEO, was enthused about a 59 per cent increase in container traffic with TEUs climbing to 76,269 from 50,672 in 2012. Mediterranean Shipping Company, the world’s second largest container line, spent its first full year calling at the port while Hapag-Lloyd, another major container line, began offering its services through the port in October. Quinn said he expects container traffic will rise again this year because the port offers importers and exporters a variety of routes to get their boxes moved overland to and from Canadian and American destinations. “Our increase in container tonnage speaks to the confidence these shipping lines have put in our port. These numbers speak to our positive growth and potential as a port.” The long winter should also bring the port additional traffic this year as municipalities replenish stockpiles of road salt, he noted. The demise of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic railway following last summer’s deadly derailment in Lac-Mégantic reduced export volumes of refined oil products. The line still hasn’t been cleared for resumption of crude oil shipments, but has been acquired by Railroad Acquisition Holdings of New York, which will changes its name to the Central Maine and Quebec Railway once the takeover is complete. Potash production in New Brunswick is shifting to a new mine and once it’s in full operation, shipments through the port will rise.
Port of Quebec City saw a 5.3 million tonne drop during 2013 to 27.1 million tonnes compared to the previous year. Mario Girard, Port President and CEO, noted the port did achieve “new heights with respect to cruise ships, with 103 cruise ship visits and 164,000 visitors.” As for the drop in freight traffic, spokeswoman Marie-Andree Blanchet said the end of the Canadian Wheat Board’s export monopoly and the transportation problems in the industry had affected business at the Bunge Terminal. As well, Valero Energy Corp.’s refinery in Levis increased crude deliveries by rail and decreased deliveries by tanker, and was closed for six weeks for a maintenance overhaul. The early arrival of winter also delayed the arrival of late season shipments until early 2014, she added.
Looking to the future, the Port Authority and its partners invested about $55 million in infrastructure development last year and anticipate a comparable expenditure this year.
Hamilton Port Authority reported a 2.7 per cent decline in tonnage to 10.0 million tonnes with overseas shipments falling more than North American ones. Bruce Wood, the Port’s President and CEO, noted the growth in shipments of agricultural commodities as evidence of the port’s move away from its traditional dependence on the steel industry. As well, its intermodal options were attracting customers and cargo. “Grains and trains were the stars for Hamilton in 2013,” he said. Port terminals posted a 13 per cent increase in grain tonnage in 2013 over 2012 and a 2 per cent increase in fertilizer tonnage. “Port of Hamilton is seeing an ever greater volume of cargo come through the port by rail, with 3,800 rail cars transiting the port in 2013, up 17 per cent since 2012. Modal choice is attracting more customers and cargo. We’re working closely with our tenants to understand their needs for increased rail capacity and storage. We’re making sure our customers have access to the right mode, at the right time.”
Steel-related shipments such as ore, coal and slag accounted for 73.3 per cent, followed by agricultural products (17.8 per cent), aggregates (3.7 per cent), liquid products (3.4 per cent) and general cargo (1.8 per cent). In 2009, steel related cargo accounted for nearly 80 per cent of the port’s traffic. Grain handled at Hamilton’s port terminals includes more than 1.3 million tonnes of soybeans, canola, wheat and corn, most of it grown by southern Ontario farmers for export to global markets.
Traffic through Port of Halifax fell by 9.3 per cent to 8.6 million tonnes last year compared to 9.5 million tonnes in 2012. It had been over 9 million tonnes since 2009. Overall, containerized traffic grew by 8.6 per cent to 3.8 million tonnes or 442,173 TEUs compared to 416,572 in 2012. General cargo increased by 1.2 per cent to 449,722 tonnes, and has been on slow upward curve since 2009. Meanwhile bulk shipments were off by 21.2 per cent to 4.4 million tonnes after being in the mid 5 million tonne range since 2009. Cruise results include 134 calls and 252,121 passengers in 2013, virtually paralleling the 2012 figures.
Shipments through Thunder Bay dropped to 6.6 million tonnes compared to 7.8 million tonnes. Grain fell by more than 1 million tonnes to 5.4 million tonnes because there was little to move at the start of the 2013 shipping season. Then the 2013 Prairie harvest was about a month late and the early onset of winter hindered shipments through the Seaway-Great Lakes system. With the exception of dry bulk, the other main categories of freight all fell including coal, potash, liquid bulk and general cargo, which includes forest products. Calls by American and foreign vessels were slightly ahead of 2012 numbers, but the number of domestic ships entering the port slipped to 250 from 335 in 2012.
Port of Windsor set a record for tonnage last year at just over 6 million tonnes, its best result since late 1980s. Port President and CEO David Cree said, “This milestone was achieved because of significant gains in three major cargoes. First and foremost, stone and construction aggregates increased by approximately 25 per cent to reach almost 3 million tonnes. In addition, petroleum products increased by 13.6 per cent and grain increased by more than 26 per cent. “Obviously, we are very pleased with our 2013 results,” he said. “Overall, the port is continuing to rebound from the global recession with construction aggregates leading the way and improvements in several other important cargo categories.” Dry bulk shipments dropped last year due to a decline in cement shipments, Cree added. In the aftermath of a long winter, the port expects greater salt shipments during 2014.
Among the smaller ports, Trois-Rivieres handled 2.7 million tonnes, down from 3.4 million tonnes in 2012, Port Alberni handled 1.9 million tonnes of cargo, up from 1.6 million tonnes in 2012, Belledune 1.7 million tonnes compared to 1.9 million tonnes the previous year, Toronto moved 1.6 million tonnes compared to 1.9 million tonnes in 2012, Oshawa saw 291,613 tonnes, down from 472,553 tonnes in 2012, Saguenay 267,000 tonnes compared to 295,000 in 2012, and Nanaimo handled 3.4 million tonnes, up from 3.0 in 2012.