BBC Alberta unloading wind energy components at Keefer Terminal of Port of Thunder Bay
BBC Alberta unloading wind energy components at Keefer Terminal of Port of Thunder Bay

With breakbulk activity already posting robust trends at key Canadian ports, the project cargo outlook is showing evidence of beginning to bounce back from equipment-production delays and other pandemic-related challenges.

The improved project cargo prospects especially apply to wind energy projects where Ontario, Quebec and Alberta currently dominate installed capacity. Earlier this year, the Canadian Renewable Energy Association noted that despite COVID-19 Canada ended 2020 with total wind capacity of 13,588 MW and predicted the construction of 745 MW of additional capacity in 2021.

Arguably playing a bellwether role is the Port of Thunder Bay. On the tip of Lake Superior, it acts as a hub for dimensional and project cargo for destinations in Western Canada, with an expanded Keefer Terminal the facility of choice for multipurpose vessels of the likes of BBC Chartering and Spliethoff as well as vessels from the Fednav fleet.

“Various wind projects went on hold in 2020 because of the pandemic, but the project line-up is picking up this fall,” indicated Chris Heikkinen, Director of Business Development for the Thunder Bay Port Authority. “A number of heavy lifts of the modular type are on the books.”

A lot of construction will be ramping up which heralds strong project cargo business in 2022 and beyond, Mr. Heikkinen suggested.

In August, Keefer Terminal handled its largest shipment of European steel rail to date. Steel imports, which began six years ago at Keefer, are expected to double in 2021 over last year as demand continues in Western Canada.

Steel is also the big story on the St. Lawrence Seaway linking the Atlantic Ocean to the industrial heartland of North America. In the period to August 31, general cargo shipments via the Seaway surged by 60% from a year earlier – mainly due to steel imports from Europe to centers throughout Ontario and U.S. Great Lakes states.

“The demand for steel and construction materials are a reflection of recovering industries domestically and internationally,” comments Terence Bowles, President and CEO of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation. “These raw materials will be needed for months to come.”

Commenting in similar terms on the above trends Matthew McPhail, vice-president, sales and marketing of Federal Marine Terminals, evoked “a very strong 2021” for FMT.

“We have been able to navigate the global pandemic quite well, with minimal impact on our overall operations,” he said, adding: “In the Great Lakes, steel volumes are quite robust, covering various products by vessel and barge. We have also seen the continuation of wind projects and other project cargoes.”

On the West Coast, breakbulk is also significantly on the rise at Vancouver, Canada’s largest port, with first quarter volume up by nearly 50% at 4.9 million metric tons.

The Port of Vancouver acts as a major consolidation centre in the Pacific Northwest for breakbulk…

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