Nova Scotia

Halifax port eyes big business from huge ships with new expansion

The Halifax Port Authority has announced plans to expand its south end container facility to accommodate some of the largest container vessels in the world and keep the Halifax port competitive.

'We're seeing more and more big ships calling on Halifax,' says Halifax Port Authority spokesperson

The South End Container Terminal in Halifax will be expanded, according to the Halifax Port Authority. (Pam Berman/CBC)

The Halifax Port Authority has announced plans expand its south-end Halifax container facility to accommodate some of the largest vessels in the world, an effort aimed at keeping the port competitive.

The south end of the existing pier will be expanded temporarily, at a cost of $35 million, to allow the facility operated by Halterm Container Terminal Ltd. to be ready for two such ultra-class vessels at a time by 2020.

Lane Farguson said a more permanent expansion will be done at the north end of the pier in the years to come. (CBC)

Lane Farguson, speaking for the port authority, said a more permanent expansion will be done at the north end of the pier in the years to come. Costs for that work haven't been determined, he said.

"We're seeing a tremendous expansion and evolution of the shipping industry," said Farguson.

"We're seeing more and more big ships calling on Halifax, and in order to remain competitive in this very competitive global industry, we need the capacity to be able to berth and service two of these big vessels simultaneously."

Farguson added there'll be no changes at the Fairview Cove Container Terminal. He said that facility, operated by Ceres Halifax Inc., still has plenty of business handling smaller vessels that can still fit under the Macdonald Bridge, which spans Halifax harbour.

Halifax received it's largest container ship to date in 2017, the 349-metre-long Zim Antwerp. If the ship were to stand on its stern it would be more than three times taller than Halifax's tallest building, Fenwick Tower.

Farguson said truck traffic in downtown Halifax is still a concern and the port is doing a few things to address this. (CBC)

Farguson said truck traffic in the city's downtown is still a concern and the port is doing a few things to address this such as unloading trucks in Moncton, N.B., and moving goods by rail into Halifax.

He also said digital schedules allow trucking companies to schedule deliveries for off-peak hours. 

Looking much further into the future, Farguson said if land became available in Dartmouth, the port would be interested in acquiring it for a terminal on that side of the harbour.

Farguson also said the port is looking at different options for a new cruise ship terminal that could be on either side of the harbour. But he said the port is still in the very early planning stages of that project.

The massive cruise ship Anthem of the Seas, operated by Royal Caribbean International, is berthed in Halifax on Sept. 1, 2016. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission supports the port authority's expansion plans. Paul MacKinnon welcomes the idea of rail transfer and storage sites to reduce truck traffic.

But he said those steps could be counteracted by increased port business. So he thinks refashioning the rail cut that runs through peninsula Halifax is an option that needs more serious consideration.

"It seems in some way like an obvious solution," said MacKinnon. "Whether that's paving the rail cut and having the trucks go out that way or putting trucks onto trains."

"There's got to be a better solution than have them go through the streets," he said. "At a certain point it's going to become much less efficient for the port."

Sydney port

In terms of what the expansion might mean for the Port of Sydney project, Marlene Usher, CEO of the Port of Sydney Development Corp., said in an email that it would "only serve to enhance the Atlantic gateway in combination with our container project in Sydney."

She said the model is similar to that on the West Coast. In the last 10 years, the Port of Prince Rupert has become a player in the world of global shipping.

Usher said the Port of Vancouver was initially concerned about the competition, but she said "the entire Pacific gateway has grown exponentially including Vancouver. That is our vision for all of Nova Scotia and the Atlantic gateway."

The Sydney container terminal project is still in the planning stages, and officials have said they still need to find a shipping line to commit to using a terminal in Sydney harbour before construction can begin.

With files from Pam Berman