The arrival of bigger, post-Panamax container ships which started Monday is good news for the struggling port of Halifax.

The CMA-CGM Vivaldi stopped at the Halterm terminal carrying 8478 TEUs (total equivalent units) the largest container ship to call on the port.

An even bigger ship, known as a super post-Panamax ship built for 9200 TEU is scheduled to arrive in Halifax next month.

Both of these larger vessels are owned by CMA-CGM of France, the third largest container shipping company in the world with 445 ships.

The port of Halifax has seen its volume of containerized cargo drop by about 10 per cent last year and nine per cent during the first half of 2015.

Containers make up more than 80 per cent of the port's overall business. Terminal operators at Halterm and Ceres have spent tens of millions of dollars over the past five years to install cranes capable of unloading ships that are too wide to go through the Panama Canal.

With the introduction at Halterm of CMA-CMG's Columbus service which now connects shipping companies in Halifax and Toronto with new markets in the Far East, the port is in a position to grow or at least regain lost cargo.

Vivaldi container ship

The shipping line, which will start stopping twice a month in Halifax, is expected to become weekly service by the end of this year. (CBC)

"Vietnam, Malaysia, and southern China, so it opens up new opportunities for the importers and exporters of Atlantic Canada," said Ashley Dinning, the CEO and managing director of Halterm.

"We need more wins like this for Halifax, it's great news for everybody. For the labour here, for our investors, for the people of Nova Scotia."

Exporters in Toronto and Chicago can get their products to Vietnam in just 26 days via CN Rail, the port of Halifax, and the Suez Canal.

For companies in Nova Scotia, CMA-CGM can provide direct shipment of their products with no downtime in another port, to customers in South China and Malaysia.

It also supplies refrigerated containers for East Coast seafood.

The shipping line, which will start stopping twice a month in Halifax, is expected to become weekly service by the end of  this year.

Dinning says the fact the port of New York is also preparing to handle the worlds biggest ships by raising the Bayonne bridge, is favourable for Halifax.

The French shipping company has increased its business in North America by nearly a million TEUs in the past 18 months, much of it moving through New York, Norfolk and Savannah.

Ashley Dinning

Ashley Dinning is the CEO and managing director of Halterm. (LinkedIn)

Dinning says it creates an opportunity for Halifax, which doesn't have the congestion of New York-New Jersey but has the rail connections through CN to move cargo to the mid-west more quickly.

"Today, anybody that moves cargo into New York and wants to rail cargo into the mid-west, there is a delay," Dinning said. "Here, we will move it directly from the ship and load it straight onto the train for Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, Minneapolis, the day the ship has arrived here."

Dinning says Halterm is currently operating at less than one third capacity and the arrival of the larger ships operated by CMA-GGM has the potential to fill up a lot of empty berths. He estimates 1,000 direct and indirect jobs could be created at the port if and when Halterm can grow its business to capacity.

In the meantime, he was pleased that longshoremen with the ILA local 269 unpacked the Vivaldi in  just seven hours.

"It's the first time anyone has serviced ships of that size in the port," said Dinning, "And the report I got last night of our ship-to-shore productivity was fantastic." 
 
There's another glimmer of hope for the port which has seen container cargo decline nearly 20 per cent over the past 10 years.

Bayonne Bridge Navigational Clearance Project

The Bayonne Bridge Navigational Clearance Project will see the bridge raised to handle container traffic. (www.panynj.gov)

On Friday, an even bigger post-Panamax ship called the Budapest Express with 8700 TEUs will arrive at the Ceres terminal at Fairview Cove.

It represents the resumption of a stop cancelled two years ago. Both ships arriving at the two terminals this week are too big for the rival port of Montreal.

"Shipping lines are increasing the size of their vessels to take advantage of economies of scale. The larger the ship the lower the unit cost of operation is," Dinning said.

"Large ships like this can't go down the St. Lawrence into Montreal. They have problems with draft in the summer (too much ship in too little water) and with ice in the winter."