By William Hryb

“The Port of Thunder Bay is becoming a major hub for project cargo” said David Hryb, Operations Manager for Thunder Bay Shipping Inc. “The port’s reputation for expeditious cargo handling is becoming a standard … I’m really pleased to be a part of this resurgence in port activity especially with unique shipments like hotel modules”. The agency was sub-agent to Protos Shipping Limited, Montreal (Agents for the Charterers).

MV Jacqueline C set sail from Gdynia, Poland, on August 11, 2017, arriving at the port of Thunder Bay 23 days later. Carrying a cargo of hotel modules, Capt. Soare Bratie’s first voyage into the Great Lakes was memorable indeed. “Passing all the way from Montreal to Thunder Bay was difficult … we used eight pilots, and transited sixteen locks in a period of six days. It was a passage full of spectacular views I will never forget,” Capt. Bratie said. He marveled at the St. Lawrence Seaway, saying “I could see the extraordinary hard work to build, all of which in my opinion was more difficult than the Panama Canal”.

Polcom Group, based in Poland, manufactured the 152 modular hotel units bound for Calgary, Alberta. The 20-year-old family business led by Eugeniusz Slominski was the ideal candidate for the production of the modular units for Groupe Germain Hospitalité’s $34 million East Village Calgary project. The Quebec-based company is constructing its second hotel in the bustling city of Calgary, and its ninth in Canada. The ALT Hotel brand is a no-frills-chic concept offering modern design, and eco-friendly features at an economical price. Modular hotel construction is gaining popularity throughout North America allowing for faster construction, using the technique of stacking sealed, factory made finished hotel rooms.

Requiring four 24 hour days to load, Capt. Bratie commented on the complexities of the cargo operations, “the cargo was very sensitive, as most of the modules have a side of full windows…the stow plan was difficult due to the different size and shape of modules.” Asked why he thought these modules were purchased outside Canada, Capt. Bratie replied, “there is no other explanation why the modules were acquired from Poland other than the price of producing them there, since Eastern European countries still have low wages with excellent quality of workmanship.” Laurie Ritter, Modular Cargo/International Trade Specialist at Polcom USA, added that Canadian manufacturers do not offer steel frames, which may have been a purchase consideration.

She added that, “Working with the Thunder Bay Port Authority has been an absolute pleasure…the port has all the required elements for what we need, has access to inland options and is absolutely well-suited to handle difficult, out-of-gauge freight. The port provides a cost-effective water arrival option to Central and Western Canada destinations offering refreshing individual attention and flexibility to schedule changes. Logistec Stevedoring was instrumental with its experience handling oversized, non-containerized freight, displayed flexibility with a constantly changing schedule, and charged extremely competitive rates.”

Over the past decade, Port of Thunder Bay has developed diverse solutions to complex cargo moves. “The Thunder Bay team works closely with customers through the logistics process … we have developed long-term relationships with clients who often take advantage of value added offerings such as heated storage and cargo staging” said Tim Heney, CEO of Thunder Bay Port Authority. Vasko Popovic, manager of Logistec Stevedoring said, “We strive to perform our duties with the utmost care … experience over the past 15 seasons with special project cargo has given shippers the confidence that their cargo will be handled with safe, expeditious results”.

Any way you look at it, the Port has established itself as a competitive supply chain link for accessing Western Canada projects such as the oilsands, clean energy projects, mine sites and construction developments. “The hotel module shipment is an example of further diversification of the project cargo base…. Thunder Bay is a viable alternative to more congested ports and has the closest proximity by land to Western Canada of any port east of the Rockies”, Tim Heney said.

Capt. Bratie, a veteran of 32 years at sea and master for the last eleven, started discharging the hotel modules on September 5th and completed the job on September 9. “Discharging in Thunder Bay was very difficult, due to the sensitivity of the modules … the stevedores did everything possible to protect the cargo without damaging it … I was extremely pleased with their performance” he said.