Nova Scotia

New online hub to streamline Halifax port operations

Pier extensions in the Port of Halifax with dredging barges, gravel trucks and construction machinery have become a feature of the waterfront in recent years. Now an invisible expansion will make it easier to co-ordinate the movement of cargo when ships arrive in Halifax.

Port authority has signed 5-year contract with Saab for automated system that's also used in Vancouver

Cargo ships like the CGM Libra are a common sight at the Port of Halifax. (Steve Farmer/Port of Halifax)

Pier extensions in the Port of Halifax with dredging barges, gravel trucks and construction machinery have become a feature of the waterfront in recent years.

Now an invisible expansion will make it easier to co-ordinate the movement of cargo when ships arrive in Halifax.

It's a digital upgrade to connect port users without phone calls and paperwork.

"At the moment, an agent will contact multiple, multiple players in the port. So they will contact the pilot authority, they'll contact towage, they'll contact the terminals to arrange the call of a vessel," said Capt. Allan Gray, CEO of the Halifax Port Authority.

"In this system, it'll be a single point of truth. The agent's request for a vessel call will go into a single system. It will go out to all the parties and say, can you provide resources at this time for the service? And everyone will come back and confirm."

Automated systems are common in European and Asian ports.

5-year contract worth more than $1M

The port has signed a five-year contract with Saab for the company's port management information system.

Gray said the deal is worth "in excess" of $1 million over the term.

The Swedish multinational will run the Halifax project from its Vancouver office where its port management system is already in use.

The work will start immediately with the system going live late next year, followed by several years of maintenance and support.

The Halifax port sent out a closed call for proposals and Saab was selected from a shortlist.

"We made a clear decision that we weren't going to go customizing a product from scratch all the way through. We wanted to go to a scalable system that could do real-time monitoring, co-ordination of services, and it had a proven track record in the market."

Room for improvement 

Tens of millions of dollars have been spent to ensure the Port of Halifax has the berths it needs to handle the ever-larger container ships that carry goods around the world.

Digitization is part of keeping Halifax's deepwater port competitive, said Gray, adding there's room to grow the amount of cargo it handles.

"For us, this is about getting some optimization into the system, some efficiency into the system, so we can maximize what we say we already have, which is twice the capacity that we're currently putting through," he said.

"We just have to be super efficient and reliable about it."

System has led to higher revenues

Saab spokesperson Huub van Roosmalen said once the port management information system goes live, people spend less time on the phone because everything can be handled online. This includes ship agents planning vessel visits.

"The [system] also positively affects invoicing as tariffs are calculated more accurately, reducing avoidable payment delays. In several cases these factors demonstrably directly led to higher port revenues," van Roosmalen said in an email to CBC News.

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.

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