Nova Scotia

Dredged channel in Sydney harbour still can't welcome the biggest ships

Some large ships still cannot enter Sydney harbour — even though it was dredged for that purpose in 2011.

Although dredged 7 years ago, the port's new deeper channel still doesn't have navigation aids

Promoters of a proposed container terminal for Sydney harbour say they have lined up funding and builders, but have yet to attract a shipping company. (Warren Gordon photo)

Some large ships still cannot enter Sydney harbour — even though it was dredged for that purpose in 2011.

That's because the port's navigation aids, which include markers and lights, don't align with the new, deeper channel.

 "It's more than frustrating," said Marlene Usher, CEO of Port of Sydney Development Corp. "It's not very logical." 

She said some larger ships have chosen not to come into the harbour. Others have lightened their loads and used the old, shallower channel.

"It makes no sense to spend that kind of money on a dredge, which was 90 per cent government money, and then not to be able to use it," Usher said. 

The $38-million dredging was paid for by three levels of government. Nova Scotia Power contributed $1 million; the utility had hoped to bring in larger vessels to haul coal.

But no one accounted for moving the navigation aids. The coast guard, which is responsible for the aids, said in 2011 that it didn't have the money.

Lost opportunity

"It would just make good common sense if you spend $38 million dollars on a dredge that you would align the markers to use it," said Usher.

She said the cost of realignment has been estimated at $3.5 million.

The absence of navigational markers on the deeper channel is not a hazard for shipping, she said, because no one is using the route. 

"But it is a lost opportunity in our opinion, because we have had vessels request to come in that would require that dredged depth and they've either not come in or they have had to come in with a lighter load."

A spokeswoman for Nova Scotia Power said that if the utility could bring in larger ships that carry more fuel it would save customers money.

"The extra depth achieved through the dredging project will allow vessels to carry an extra 5,000 tonnes of solid fuel should the navigational aids be installed," Tiffany Chase said. 

The port sees hundreds of cruise ships each year, but cannot safely accommodate the larger shipping vessels without the navigational aids. (Holly Connors/CBC)

A resolution

Seven years later, there's now some indication that a resolution is in the works.

Usher said coast guard officials recently said they might be able to find the money to fix the channel markers and lights, but would still need $800,000 from the port.

"The Canadian Coast Guard and other stakeholders continue to work towards a resolution of the issue," said the agency's spokesperson Stephen Bornais.

Usher said the port has the money and is ready to contribute to make the deeper channel usable.

The port development corporation had $2.5 million left over after the dredging, which it used for maintenance, marketing and business development, Usher said. She said there's roughly $1.1 million still in the reserve, which could help pay for the realignment of the aids.

"If that's the requirement that they're making, and they're [the coast guard] putting in the remainder of the funds, we feel that's a good use of those funds."

With files from Tom Ayers