New Halifax-Argentia weekly marine cargo service to launch on Friday
Dartmouth company TMSI to compete with Oceanex, Marine Atlantic
A Nova Scotia company says it plans to begin a new Halifax-to-Argentia marine cargo service on Friday, adding another option for those wanting to ship goods to and from Newfoundland.
But industry insiders are quietly skeptical that a new service is viable.
The private Darmouth-based company is called TMSI Ltd., and will operate a 120-metre vessel called the Nolhan Ava, which has the capacity to carry more than 400, 20-foot equivalent unit containers, which are referred to as TEUs.
The vessel will make its first commercial run Friday, with plans to arrive in Placentia Bay on Sunday.
'We're giving it a shot'
Some of those behind the venture are also involved with a separate cargo service between Halifax and St-Pierre-Miquelon, on Newfoundland's south coast, and see an opportunity to expand.
"We had been approached before by various customers and interested parties to have another service into Newfoundland. So we saw a window there of opportunity for our service. So we're giving it a shot," said TMSI spokesperson Yvon Dufour.
The company will compete with two other established shippers: Marine Atlantic, the federal Crown corporation that operates the constitutionally mandated ferry service between Port aux Basques and North Sydney, along with a seasonal service to Argentia, and privately owned Oceanex.
Both operations have publicly reported a decline in commercial traffic, and some transportation insiders in the province are quietly casting doubt on the viability of another service.
"They're wrong. It will work. We're solid," Dufour said.
Some false starts
TMSI has had a number of false starts on this new service, acknowledged Dufour.
"It took us a long time because we wanted to stand strong. We're not leaving."
The company has spent millions to purchase a ship and make extensive modifications, and has also installed a new harbour crane in Argentia. And nearly all of the two crews of 14 who will operate the Nolhan Ava are from Newfoundland and Labrador.
The service will initially focus on container cargo of all types, with plans to ship "rolling stock" such as car and trucks and install a new offloading ramp in Argentia if market conditions permit.
"What we're trying to do is to provide a good service, a good alternative service, at a competitive rate," Dufour said.
Argentia 'next big port'
The vessel is capable of sailing in icy waters, and the company plans to operate year-round.
Argentia was the preferred site because of its close proximity to St. John's, and because it's poised to become "the next big port," said Dufour.
The port is busier than it's been since the former American navy base closed in the mid-1990s, driven largely by the construction of a concrete gravity structure for Husky Energy's West White Rose oil project.
"We sure hope we're going to get the support of the community and that it's going to grow. It's a good ship. It's a fast ship. It pretty well operates in all weather conditions," Dufour said.
"It's fast enough that if we get the customer support we're hoping we're going to get, it shouldn't be long we'll go into a twice weekly sailing if we have to."