Evolving Competition Among Eastern Canadian Ports

containers

By Harry Valentine 2016-08-07 18:51:29

Ports Dubai and Canadian government officials recently announced that DP Ports will lease, operate and expand Rodney Container Terminal at Saint John in Eastern Canada’s New Brunswick province. This port is located on the Bay of Fundy and undergoes a twice daily tidal change of 50 feet (15 meters), posing a challenge for port cranes at the future transshipment terminal.

At present, the port needs some modification to berth a neo-Panamax container ship. Ceres Terminals presently operates Fairview Container Terminal at the southwest corner of Bedford Basin at Halifax and can berth one neo-Panamax container ship of up to 14,000 TEUs.

Inland Railway Connection

Saint John has the advantage that the railway line to Montreal via State of Maine is about half the railway distance between Halifax and Montreal. The railway segment of a container’s journey incurs higher transportation cost per container-mile than maritime transportation. 

When fully developed, Rodney Terminal is intended to serve as the neo-Panamax port for Boston that cannot berth such a vessel. However, the railway distance between Boston and Saint John is almost identical to the railway distance between Port of Newark and Boston. The maritime distance between Saint John and Boston is shorter than between Halifax and Boston.

Halifax

Prior to the introduction of neo-Panamax ships to the North American East Coast, Montreal bound Panamax ships first stopped at Halifax for a partial offloading of containers. Halifax’s Fairview Cove container terminal can berth a neo-Panamax ship for container transfers to smaller Panamax size ships sailing to Boston and to Montreal, and during warm weather, Seaway-max size ships sailing to inland ports along the St Lawrence Seaway. The sailing distance from Halifax to Montreal is shorter than Saint John to Montreal.

The layout of Fairview Cove terminal allows a floating crane to moor alongside a neo-Panamax ship moored to dockside, with a waiting smaller ship to moor alongside the floating crane vessel. Wave heights are sufficiently gentle in Bedford basin for a floating crane that transfers containers between vessels, to operate during all but the most severe windstorms. 

It is unlikely that a navigable canal that could also generate oceanic hydroelectric power, will be built anytime soon between the eastern most end of Bay of Fundy and Northumberland Strait (Green Bay) to reduce sailing distance between Saint John and Montreal. 

Terminal Market Niches

Following further development at Saint John, the layout of berths at Rodney Terminal could eventually allow for easier transfer of containers between neo-Panamax and smaller ships that would sail to American ports such as Portland, Boston, New Haven and Bridgeport. 

However, Port of Halifax will retain the competitive edge in terms of container transshipment from neo-Panamax ships to Montreal and Great Lakes bound ships. While there is much political interest in seeking to sustain the railway lines that extend into southern and eastern Nova Scotia, maritime transportation of containers to inland ports is less costly than railway transportation.

The Mega-Container Ships

Melford Terminals recently announced that a new partner would participate in the development of their long awaited transshipment terminal for mega-container ships of 18,000 TEU and greater capacity. 

Competing ports developer Harbor Ports Development Partners (HPDP) is engaged in the early stages of developing a transshipment terminal for mega-container ships at Port of Sydney that connects directly to Cabot Strait. Given that a 14,000 TEU neo-Panamax ship could call at Port of Halifax, mega container ships of 21,000 TEU and greater capacity would need to call at Sydney and/or Melford in order to remain competitive, given the additional sailing distance via Suez Canal.
 
Eastern Canadian transshipment super terminals that berth mega-container ships could benefit from the development of transshipment super terminals on the coast of Brazil as well as at the southern tip of Africa. Such terminals would allow for development of future trade from Western Australia, Southern Africa, Equatorial West Africa and South America to northeastern North America. 

Alliances amongst container ship companies and innovative transportation logistics planning could develop a market for the super-size ships. The super ship that carries trade from Asia to South America could also carry Africa and South American trade to Nova Scotia super terminal.

South American Super Port

The planned development of Port of Pecem transshipment terminal located some 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Fortaleza, Brazil for mega-size ships could bring such ships into the South Atlantic, sailing via Cape Town. Bypassing the Suez Canal would allow ship builders to develop the maximum size of mega container ship, estimated at 24,000 to 27,000-TEU. While the huge ship would sail the South America –Asia service, it could also sail the South America – Europe service with a possible stopover at Eastern Canada as container based trade between northeastern North America and the combination of South America and Southern Africa further develops.

Courtesy of future maritime alliances, Port of Pecem has the potential serve as the transshipment port for most of South America’s Atlantic coast, several Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico ports as well as several Equatorial West African ports. Super-sized ships could sail via Port of Pecem and the southern tip of Africa while on voyages between a European super port and an Asian super port. Ships could sail from the European port with containers for South America and Southern Africa, stopping at Port of Pecem to exchange containers from Europe for Asian and Southern African bound containers.

South African Future Terminal

The willingness of South Africa’s Department of Transport to allow for the development of a transshipment super port for mega-container ships in the vicinity of Cape Town, along with a willing investor and port developer, could greatly enhance future cost-competitive north-south container transportation on the Atlantic Ocean. A pair of mega-ships sailing in opposite direction would converge at a future Cape Town super-transshipment terminal along with smaller ships sailing from Perth (Australia), East African and West Africa ports to transfer containers that would represent the volume of trade amongst diverse regions of the world.

At the present time, the Port of Durban operates near design capacity and has little space available for a super transshipment terminal, while the transshipment container port (Nqura) at Port Elizabeth was built for neo-Panamax ships. The bays near Cape Town provide a refuge where a fleet of ships could ‘drop anchor’ between unloading and loading containers. There is scope to build an extended super-breakwater at Cape Town to further protect Table Bay from severe ocean waves, and also scope to develop a wave protected area for a fleet of ships at St Helena Bay, located north of Cape Town.
 
Eastern Canadian Mega-Container Super Port

The future viability of sailing mega-container ships along a north – south Atlantic route to a Nova Scotia super terminal would depend on:
 * future maritime alliances at Port of Pecem and at Port of Cape Town 
 * future volume of container transshipment at a future Port of Pecem transshipment super terminal
 * future volume of container transshipment at a future Port of Cape Town transshipment super terminal
 * future volume of trade between Northeastern North America and the combination of South America and Southern Africa 

That future viability of a Nova Scotian super port would depend on the combined future volume of Atlantic container traffic in addition to future Asian – North American East Coast trade that would sail on board mega-container ships via the Suez Canal. Future developments at Port of Pecem, Brazil and Port of Cape Town, South Africa, would influence future container traffic at a future Nova Scotia super port.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.