New Brunswick

Saint John port sees big gains following massive setback

Despite losing half of its shipping container traffic, the port authority for Saint John posted major gains in 2017.

Port Saint John said 2017 saw a large increase in shipping volume, ship calls and cruise ship passengers

Close to 30.5 million metric tonnes of product was moved in and out of the Saint John port in 2017. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Despite losing half of its shipping container traffic, Port Saint John posted major gains in 2017, the port authority announced while discussing fiscal year results at its annual general meeting on Thursday

CEO Jim Quinn said the port moved nearly 30.5 million metric tonnes of product both in and out of Saint John in 2017 — an increase of more than four million tonnes shipped from the previous year. Quinn said the majority of the increase came from liquid bulk and potash exports.

"It was an extremely strong year," said Quinn. "Financially, it was probably best year the port's ever had."

The gains came following the surprise pull-out of the port's container operator, Tropical Shipping, in late 2016. Quinn said Tropical's sudden departure came as a shock since it represented 50 per cent of the port's container business.

Port Saint John CEO Jim Quinn said last year was likely the port authority's most financially successful year ever. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

He said Port Saint John's terminal operator, DP World, was crucial in attracting a new container operator.

"They immediately went to work with the port and we were immediately successful in attracting CMA-CGM," he said.

From August 2017 to the end of the year, the port started to see a recovery in container volumes, he said.

Quinn said the port's west-side modernization project, when complete, is expected to triple the amount of container traffic when Tropical was in the city.

That project, which has been in the planning stages since 2011, is close to beginning. When it's complete, the $205-million expansion will see new wharf construction and a deeper, wider channel by about 2022.

Quinn said work should begin on the first stages of the project this July, which means the first tenders for work will likely go out in a matter of weeks.

Quinn said Port Saint John's plans to modernize the west side of the port should get underway this summer. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

The port also managed to see a major rebound in potash exports. The closure of the Sussex PotashCorp mine in 2016 caused a significant decline in exports that year. But because of rail exports, Port Saint John more than doubled its potash exports last year.

Calls from cruise ships are also on an upswing. There has been a steady increase in ship calls since 2014, when they dropped dramatically. Quinn said with the forward planning of cruise lines, the next two years will see more improvements.


Matthew Bingley is a CBC reporter based in Saint John.