By Keith Norbury

Port of Nanaimo is all set to embark on a long-awaited $100 million expansion and upgrade of its Duke Point terminal. The port, on Vancouver Island’s east coast about 110 kilometres north of the B.C. capital of Victoria, is receiving $46.2 million from the federal government’s National Trade Corridor Fund — which was announced in July. The port and DP World will kick in the remainder, said Ian Marr, Nanaimo Port Authority’s Chief Executive.

“I would think we’d hopefully get started this year,” Mr. Marr said in a recent interview. Much depends on the permitting processes that the project will have to go through, he said. “Hopefully they’ll be short and we are anticipating starting in the fall, actually. But, you know, that could be the spring. You never know,” Mr. Marr said. In any event, he expects the work to be completed by 2023.

The Nanaimo project is one of the more significant ones expected to happen at B.C. ports in the coming year. Port of Prince Rupert was scheduled to begin construction on a two-phase expansion that would increase capacity at the Fairview Container Terminal to 1.8 million TEUs by 2022. Prince Rupert also received National Trade Corridor Funds grants totalling $153.7 million last year for three other projects with a combined value of $300 million that will be built over the next few years.

North of Prince Rupert, Stewart World Port is importing such cargoes as pipe for the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline, and cement for mines in the Golden Triangle. The port also has plans for a shortline railway to enable export of grain and potash.

Port Alberni, on Vancouver Island’s west coast, is looking for $40 million from the federal or provincial governments to help bankroll a floating drydock.

And Vancouver, Canada’s largest port, is forging ahead with a plan to build a container terminal on Roberts Bank despite opposition from environmentalists and an existing container terminal operator that has its own vision for the future.

Duke Point to expand wharf

At Nanaimo, the improvements to the Duke Point Terminal will include expanding the existing wharf to 325 metres from 182 metres. Replacing an existing crane with two 24-metre cranes, building a new general cargo warehouse and a new administration and maintenance building are other parts of the project — as is increasing the storage area of the terminal. Upgrades to water, sewage, drainage, electrical and security systems will also form part of the project. During construction, the project will create 900 jobs, in addition to new jobs at the expanded terminal.

“With our location and the high volumes of cargo moving into and out of Vancouver and Vancouver Island, we are ideally situated to become the primary point of entry and exit for trans-shipment of goods for Vancouver Island,” Mr. Marr said in July when the project funding was announced. The announcement of the federal funding fulfills a vision of former port CEO Bernie Dumas, who told Canadian Sailings in 2016 that the port was looking for federal money to help bankroll a $50 million to $70 million expansion at Duke Point.

“You try to set out your game plan so that it’s going to continue on, no matter who’s here,” Mr. Marr said, crediting the Port’s Board of Directors with doing a good job. “It’s not always instantaneous, obviously, but it’s good when you start to make steps towards your goal,” Mr. Marr added.

Cargo volumes, both imports and exports, dropped last year at Nanaimo, to 4.65 million tonnes in 2019 from 5.31 million tonnes in 2018 — a 12.4 per cent decrease in total. That was due mostly to problems in the Island’s forestry industry, which has not only been in a slump, but was hit by a long strike that has carried into 2020. “That obviously has had an effect on our cargo shipping out,” Mr. Marr said. (The strike, which started on July 1, was tentatively settled on February 11, to the relief of all stakeholders).

Forest products volumes were down to 1.7 million tonnes in 2019 compared with 2.1 million tonnes in 2018 — although the 2019 figure was higher than the number for any year from 2010 to 2017. Container volumes also dropped for the first time since the Duke Point container barge terminal began operation in 2012. The 2019 decline — to 347,184 tonnes from 534,768 — was also largely attributed to the slump in forest products, which is one of the port’s main container categories.

Vehicle processing centre in operation

Last year, Nanaimo opened its new B.C. Vehicle Processing Centre, a $19 million venture that received $6.3 million from the National Trade Corridor Fund. The Port partnered with Western Stevedoring and the auto division of Seattle-based SSA Marine, Western’s parent company, to design, build, finance, and operate the facility. “We’re just trying to diversify and make sure we’re fitting into the national supply chain and servicing the Island and further afield. And I think we’re achieving those goals,” Mr. Marr said.

Since Tranquil Ace — a pure car and truck carrier, or PCTC, of Tokyo-based Mitsui O.S.K. Lines — dropped off the first shipment of 400 luxury cars from Europe in March 2019, one or two PCTCs have unloaded every month. Mr. Marr declined to give specific figures, saying it’s not something the Processing Centre wants to broadcast. But he did say it is meeting everyone’s expectations. “It’s nice to have the Centre here to assist with some of our numbers and volumes and diversify, which is always something we’ve tried to do,” Mr. Marr said.

In October, the Port signed a protocol agreement with the City of Nanaimo. Mr. Marr said the agreement allows the city and the port to coordinate activities and think of the other when making decisions. “We’re looking to do the same with our regional district and our First Nations partners as well,” Mr. Marr said.

The Port’s cruise ship business was slow last year, with only three ships calling at Nanaimo despite having a $24 million cruise ship terminal that opened in May 2011 near the Assembly Wharf. “I think we’ve got seven this year at this point,” Mr. Marr said, adding that the port is trying a new strategy, which includes having discussions with the cruise lines about taking their customers to non-traditional places. “But, as you know, the cruise industry plans ahead two years so you may get successes now and you won’t see anything for a couple years,” he said.

Prince Rupert sets cargo record

Prince Rupert handled a record 29.89 million tonnes of cargo in 2019. That was 12 per cent more than the 26.73 million tonnes handled in 2018. “The Port’s consistent record-breaking annual volumes confirm the Port’s growing role in Canadian trade,” Shaun Stevenson, President and CEO of the Port Authority, said in a news release announcing the 2019 figures.

Volumes at DP World’s Fairview Container Terminal tallied 1.21 million TEUs, an increase of 17 per cent over 2018. Container imports increased 19 per cent, to 678,970 TEUs in 2019 from 569,0970 TEUs in 2018. But container exports also rose significantly, by 14 per cent, and in substantial numbers — to 531,868 TEUs in 2019 from 466,938 TEUs in 2018.

Also of note from the Port’s 2019 traffic summary were the following: a 46 per cent increase in thermal coal shipments from Ridley Terminal, which was offset by a three per cent drop in metallurgical coal volumes; a 28 per cent decrease in log exports from the harbour; a three per cent increase in wheat shipments along with a 17 per cent drop in canola from the Prince Rupert Grain Terminal; and a nine per cent decrease in wood pellet shipments.

Cruise ship passenger numbers at Northland Cruise Terminal also increased 35 per cent to 12,400 visitors, the port reported. The AltaGas Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal also began operation. It is expected to ship about 1.2 million tonnes of propane to Asia each year.

Rupert plans $2 billion in capital projects

As Canadian Sailings reported in November, Prince Rupert recently received $153.7 million from the National Trade Corridor Fund to help finance three major projects worth a combined $300 million. Those grants will go toward a $122 million upgrading and double tracking of Zanardi Bridge and Causeway; $100 million in service improvements to the Ridley Island Export Logistics Platform project; and development of the $89 million Metlakatla Import Logistics Park project. In total, Prince Rupert plans $2 billion in capital projects, starting this year. In addition to the aforementioned, the projects include expansion of the container terminal to 1.8 million TEUs capacity by 2022; Royal Vopak’s liquid bulk terminal, which would export up to 10 million tons of propane, butane and other fuels each year; and Pembina’s Prince Rupert Export Terminal, which is expected to begin operation in late 2020. “The 2019 volumes illustrate the growing market demand for the Prince Rupert gateway and further validates our plans for growth and expansion over the next several years,” Mr. Stevenson said in announcing the 2019 cargo volumes.

Stewart port serves Golden Triangle

Privately-owned Stewart World Port, at the head of the Portland Canal about 125 nautical miles north of Prince Rupert, has been handling breakbulk and project cargo since February 2016 when AAL Newcastle was the first ship to discharge cargo at the new facility.

Brad Pettit, the Port’s President, didn’t have 2019 cargo figures at hand but he said that last year the port handled oilfield modules, pipe for the Coastal Gaslink natural gas pipeline, and bulk cement from LaFarge in Seattle for nearby mines in what is known as the Golden Triangle. “They’re bringing it up by barge and they blow it off into a storage building,” Mr. Pettit said. “And we load out trucks with cement powder daily, to go up to the mines, to service the mining industry.”

So far the port has spent $75 million on the terminal, in two stages, with more work to come.

“Ultimately we’d like to load out bulk products — mineral concentrate, wood products of all sorts, and things like that,” Mr. Pettit said. “So we have a belting system and a ship-loading system at stage 3 and we plan on having that in service in 2022.”

While that ship-loading system is already engineered and designed, the Port needs a long-term contract with one of the mines or another entity before beginning construction. Mr. Pettit expects that to happen in late 2020 or 2021.

So far, the port has handled vessels up to Handymax size. But its dock, which is 630 feet long and 60 feet wide, can accommodate ships up to Panamax size. All it needs are some minor adjustments such as a mooring dolphin. “But that’s pretty easy to do. It’s all engineered as well,” Mr. Pettit said.

The port, about a kilometre from Hyder on the Alaska Panhandle, also hopes to build a shortline railway to connect with the Canadian National mainline 220 kilometres to the south. That would enable Stewart to export commodities such as grain and potash as well as import phosphate fertilizer. The port is also exploring handling more project cargo for wind energy projects in Alberta.

“We could definitely handle more cargo,” Mr. Pettit said. “We get nice projects and then when that project finishes it doesn’t continue on. That long-term cement contract comes up every day for years. That’s the type of thing we’d like to backstop more of.”

He also sees a golden opportunity for moving more project cargo into the Golden Triangle. “It’s one of the most undeveloped mineral areas in the world,” he said. “There are lots of mines proposed for that area.”

Port Alberni seeks drydock funding

At Port Alberni, on the west side of Vancouver Island, the Port Authority is looking for $40 million from the federal or B.C. government for a floating drydock that would enable ship repair and ship building. The facility would create about 400 jobs in the region, “which is an amazing opportunity for a community like ours,” said Zoran Knezevic, CEO of Port Alberni Port Authority. The drydock would also create more frequent ship visits, he added. Among those would be ferries from the B.C. Ferry Corporation fleet. “A floating drydock would actually be able to service all the ferry fleet and anything in between — from small tugs to the largest ferries that they have,” Mr. Knezevic said.

David McCormick, the Port Authority’s Director of Public Relations and Business Development, said the Port’s partner on the project is Canadian Maritime Engineering. Along with the City of Port Alberni and the provincial government, Canadian Maritime Engineering helped pay for a market viability study in 2018, Mr. McCormick. That study “shows the clear and present opportunity and need for additional shipbuilding repair facilities on the coast,” he said.

In the meantime, the Port granted the owners of Port Fish ice plant $500,000 to upgrade the facility so it can resume fish processing. That sowed the seeds for another $1 million in funding for developing a food hub. That money came from private investors and the Island Coastal Economic Development Trust (ICET).

The Port is negotiating lease agreements with five different parties and expects that within six months, the facility will begin processing oysters, fin fish, seaweed, and mushrooms. (The Port earlier received $3.1 million from ICET toward $8 million in improvements to the port’s Fishermen’s Harbour that included installation of two breakwaters.)

Water bottling plant in works

The Port has also leased warehouse space to a local First Nation, the Uchucklesaht Tribe, for a plant to bottle artesian spring water. Mr. Knezevic envisions the plant bottling enough water that “one day we may have a container ship stop by and use our facilities to carry the cargo from here.”

Dreams of a $2 billion container ship transshipment hub near Port Alberni also remain alive despite the Port Authority so far failing to attract interest from the National Trade Corridor Fund. “We are pushing forward as much as possible,” Mr. Knezevic said. “It is a tall order and a big project. However, it is being recognized more and more within the industry as a potential for the (Pacific) gateway.”

While the port also handles frozen fish from factory vessels, its major cargo is still log exports. They increased to 650,000 cubic metres in 2019 from 619,000 cubic metres in 2018. The Port is also working on expanding its cruise ship trade from the three vessels it welcomed in 2019.

Vancouver expanding its terminals

As one might expect, the Port of Vancouver, the largest port in B.C. and Canada, is working on some huge projects. Not the least of them is the multi-billion dollars Terminal 2 container project at Roberts Bank. (See article on page 45).

Work began in June on an expansion of DP World’s Centerm container terminal and the related South Shore Access Project. The combined budget for the projects is estimated at $450 million, said Danielle Jang, the Port’s media relations advisor. Those projects include expanding and reconfiguring the terminal, constructing a new overpass for Centennial Road, and connecting Waterfront Road to Centennial Road “to create a continuous port road along the south shore of Burrard Inlet,” Ms. Jang said by email.

In addition to improving travel time on the inlet’s south shore, the projects will increase container throughput capacity by 60 per cent, she added. “In 2020, reclamation work continues in the water and around the terminal on the Centerm Expansion Project,” Ms. Jang said. “This includes dredging and infilling to create new land for the terminal between Burrard Dock and Ballantyne pier and on the west end of the terminal, relocation of reefer towers, demolition of Ballantyne pier, as well as building the new Container Operations Facility building. On the South Shore Access Project, construction of the Centennial Road overpass will begin in 2020.”

The project also provides $2 million in community benefits, including a $500,000 Centerm Community Fund to support efforts of organizations in Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside.

Projects expected to start by fall

Port of Vancouver also expects to begin construction as early as fall 2020 on two of three projects that, along with two programs, will receive $100 million in National Trade Corridor funds announced last July. The Portside/Blundell Road Improvements Project — on port lands along the Fraser River in Richmond — includes an overpass to eliminate an at-grade Canadian National Railway crossing, widening a section of Blundell Road to four lanes, and a new bridge over the No. 7 canal to access a new development area. “The project will help mitigate traffic congestion, alleviate rail crossing delays, improve container movements to and from warehouse facilities, support future development, provide better access for public safety and emergency vehicles, and allow for new CN rail tracks to better serve tthe surrounding industrial area,” Ms. Jang said.

Fraser Surrey Port Lands Transportation Improvements – on port lands near Fraser Surrey Docks — involves realigning the Robson Road – Timberland Road corridor, and implementing new Vehicle Access Control System gates. “It will help mitigate traffic congestion, create a new staging area for trucks, and improve container truck movements to and from terminals,” Ms. Jang said. The Port will begin engaging with stakeholders on both projects this spring.

New owner for Fraser Surrey Docks

Dubai-based DP World announced in May that its Canadian subsidiary, which is owned 45 per cent by Caisse de dépot et placement du Québec, had acquired Fraser Surrey Docks from Macquarie Infrastructure Partners. “We are seeing increasing demand from our customers for multi-purpose facilities in the region and we believe Fraser Surrey Docks has the relevant infrastructure and is in the right location to service this demand,” Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, DP World’s Group Chairman and CEO, said in a news release announcing the acquisition.

In September, the Port announced it approved a permit application to upgrade and expand the Westridge Marine Terminal, which is the terminus of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. A new dock will enable the facility to load up to three Aframax tankers compared with one at present.

More than one million passengers on 288 cruise ships visited the port in 2019. That was a 22 per cent increase in passengers over 2018.

Cargo stats show slight slump

Complete port statistics for 2019 weren’t available at press time. However, figures show container traffic fell a sliver, by 0.1 per cent, to 3,398,860 TEUs in 2019 from 3,396,449 TEUs in 2018. The drop was because of a 2.3 per cent decline in container imports to 1,740,869 TEUs. Exports increased 2.5 per cent to 1,657,992 TEUs.

For the first 11 months of 2019, total tonnage of all non-containerized cargo at the port was down 3.0 per cent, to 107.2 million tonnes, compared with the same period in 2018. Petroleum products (35.6 per cent), forest products (5.9 per cent), and coal (4.4 per cent) were among the commodities that declined in volumes year over year.

Canadian Sailings also contacted representatives of Squamish Terminals and Pacific Coast Terminals but wasn’t able to receive updates by deadline.

Squamish Terminals is outside of the port of Vancouver on Howe Sound 32 nautical miles to the north. Western Stevedoring Company Limited acquired 100 per cent of Squamish Terminals from Grieg Star AG in May 2018.

Pacific Coast Terminals, which is within the port of Vancouver, celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2019 and in 2020 is making 60 years at its present location at Port Moody. Owned by Sultran Ltd. since the 1980s, PCT now specializes in bulks exports such as sulphur, potash, and ethylene glycol.