Port of Halifax sees drop in business due to COVID-19
'Keeping these goods moving is very, very important for all Canadians'
The Halifax Port Authority is seeing a decline in traffic as the world's shipping industry struggles to cope with reduced manufacturing brought on by the global spread of COVID-19.
"We are seeing a decline in imports and exports as a result of COVID-19 and we anticipate there will be some blank sailings as well," said Lane Farguson, the manager of media relations and communications for the Halifax Port Authority.
Blank sailings are when ships bypass a port because they do not have the cargo to warrant stopping.
Farguson said when the outbreak first hit Asia, the port authority noticed reduced cargo coming from manufacturing centres in China, as the virus forced workers to stay home and closed factories.
Now manufacturing is ramping back up in China, but has slowed down in North America as many companies temporarily close their doors.
It all translates to less cargo to come through the port.
Exactly how much less cargo is hard to determine, said Farguson. He said the port reports its cargo results quarterly and they don't have those numbers in yet.
Cargo from the province's mills and factories have dropped off, with Michelin plants temporarily closed and Port Hawkesbury Paper reducing shipments, according to Bill Organ, business development manger with ACS Logistics.
The company works with importers and exporters to transport their goods. Part of that work includes unloading and loading cargo at the Port of Halifax.
In a normal month, ACS moves hundreds of containers through the port. Despite the drop in overall cargo traffic in Halifax, the company did see an increase in certain types of cargo coming through.
"We have seen a shift in demand with maintaining the food supply and I suppose the day-to-day home supplies such as toilet paper, paper towels and cleaning supplies have taken priority in terms of being shipped in and out," said Organ.
They've also seen an increase in medical cargo.
Besides the difficulties brought on by COVID-19, a number of other problems have hit local shipping in the last few months.
"There were some rail disruptions here in Canada and we also know that Northern Pulp exports are going to have an impact as well," he said.
Interruptions to the rail service occurred after several groups across the country began blocking rail lines in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, who opposed a natural gas pipeline being built on their land in B.C. Those protests lasted for weeks and held up many shipments across Canada.
The Northern Pulp mill shut down Jan. 31 after Premier Stephen McNeil refused to extend the life of the mill's effluent treatment plant in Boat Harbour.
A consequence of that closure is that the company is no longer exporting goods through Halifax's port.
Less traffic at the port means less money for the port authority since shipping companies pay fees for using its facilities.
"Money is not the driving decision-maker right now," said Farguson.
He said the port is focused on maintaining the safety of its employees, port users and the larger community. It's doing that by having many of its staff work from home, enhanced cleaning and it has cancelled or postponed all large gatherings on its property.
Still it's important to keep the port running as close to normal as possible during the pandemic, said Farguson.
"We recognize, and I think Canadians recognize as well, that keeping these goods moving is very, very important for all Canadians," said Farguson,
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