Port of Sept-Iles: an awakening giant on the St. Lawrence River

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  

By Leo Ryan, AJOTSituated far from major population centres in North America (Montreal is closest at 600 miles), and with just a small population of barely 26,000, the relatively remote, year-round deepwater port of Sept-Iles on the north shore of the St. Lawrence seemed hardly destined for the big leagues. But all of a sudden, virtually in the past year, the rich iron ore deposits in what is known as the Labrador Trough in the region, have become the target of huge investments by notably Chinese and Indian steel producers hungry for raw materials. Analysts also see possible spin-offs in intermodal transportation.
At Sept-Iles, an economic renaissance is taking place following a period of decline ushered in by mine closures in Schefferville in the 1980s and a collapse in demand from global markets.
If there is an Achilles Heel, it lies in the far from adequate housing available for an anticipated flood of at least 5,000 workers in the coming years. Municipal officials respond it’s a nice problem to have and recent initiatives seek to attract large-scale real estate construction traditionally required by boom towns.
Contributing to the expansion has been a greater diversification of the regional economy, notably through the arrival in the early 1990s of the giant Aluminerie Alouette smelter, which today alone accounts for one fifth of total aluminum production in Canada.
In an interview, Pierre Gagnon, President and CEO of the Sept-Iles Port Authority, recalled: “Aluminum came here due to the strategic advantages offered by a region and a deepwater port accommodating 600 vessels a year, plus access to abundant electrical energy.”
Just on the basis of existing activity, the Port of Sept-Iles, with anticipated traffic this year of 32 million metric tons, will vault into second place in volume terms after Vancouver, ahead of Saint John or Montreal Already, it is North America’s leading iron ore gateway and aluminum transshipment center.
A strong rebound in iron ore activity in 2010 pushed overall throughput past the 25 million tons mark for the first time in three decades. The total represented a 26% spike over 2009, with the iron ore segment surging by nearly 30%.
Forecast Port Cargo Horizon: 100 Million Tons!
Investments in 2010 rose to an unprecedented level. More than $250 million in private and port funds were allocated to various port properties. At the peak of the season, some 700 workers were busy at five construction sites on port land at the Pointe-Noire and La Relance terminals, at the Consolidated Thompson project site, and at the new cruise ship dock.
In the last year, both the provincial and federal levels of government have supported future development of the port by contributing to a number of infrastructure projects.
Eyeing the not-too-distant future, Gagnon’s crystal ball points to a dramatic pinnacle. “If all current and planned projects are brought to completion, the port’s cargo volume could reach 100 million tons in five-to-ten years.”
This would transform Sept-Iles into Canada’s East Coast equivalent to Vancouver as a bulk shipping powerhouse, albeit within a narrower commodity range.
Deepwater Multi-user Dock a High Priority
However, there’s a critical need for additional port infrastructures - especially a deepwater multi-user dock to respond to rising user demand. Plans are well advanced for construction to begin on such a facility off Pointe-Noire, possibly later this year. A financing package is under negotiation for a project costing about $230 million. The dock would handle the up-and-coming class of Chinamax vessels carrying up to 300,000 tons of cargo. The existing quai at Pointe Noire cannot accommodate big ocean-going bulk carriers requiring drafts of up to 24 metres.
The port announced the first shipment last July 27 of 165,225 tons of iron ore from Consolidated Thompson Iron Mines (CLM) for China aboard the large bulk carrier Navios Aurora. The shipment was destined exclusively for CLM’s Chines

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American Journal of Transportation