Nova Scotia

Port of Halifax celebrates pier expansion despite choppy fiscal waters

Despite a drop in container volumes and the fact not a single cruise ship has visited Halifax this year, Port of Halifax officials and invited guests celebrated the expansion of the south-end container terminal Friday.

Container volume expected to be down 10 percent, no cruise ship traffic this year

This ship, the Zim Tarragona, was the first to be tied up at the new pier extension in Halifax. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Standing on newly paved asphalt with a container ship in the background, Port of Halifax officials and invited guests cut a ribbon to celebrate the $38-million expansion of the city's south-end container pier Friday.

"This is about securing our future as Atlantic Canada's ultra-class gateway," Capt. Allan Gray, president and CEO of the Port of Halifax, told reporters after a brief photo opportunity.

By expanding the existing pier to 800 metres long, crane operators can now load and offload the largest container ships in the world, two at a time.

"This is an important milestone in having the full length to be able to handle two ultra-class vessels," said Gray.

There are plans for future expansion, but according to Gray, that work will need to be done 10 to 15 years into the future.

Capt. Allan Gray says the new extension is about 'securing our future as Atlantic Canada's ultra-class gateway.' (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The most recent expansion started in January 2019, well before COVID-19 emerged as a worldwide threat. The pandemic has cost the port container business and eliminated revenues from cruise ship traffic.

Coming off a record of 323,709 cruise ship passengers visiting Halifax in 2019, not a single visitor has stepped off a ship in the port this year.

Hopes for 2021

Gray is hoping some ships will be back next year, albeit "in very controlled conditions."

"Given the work that's going on in Europe, there's going to be a good chance of something in 2021, but I wouldn't say it's a rebound," said Gray. 

Meantime, the port's container operations were recently bolstered by a strike at the Port of Montreal, which meant a sudden surge in the number of ships calling on Halifax

That unexpected business has cushioned the blow of what the port anticipated would be a 20 per cent drop in container volume this year.

"Montreal was, I suppose, in some respects a little bit of a windfall for us, and there's some regrowth going on right now," said Gray. "Overall we were expecting to be about 20 per cent down for the year, but that's improved quite considerably.

"We'll probably look around the eight to 10 per cent, if things hold."

Cruise ships worth millions

According to a May 2019 economic impact study paid for by the Port of Halifax, a total of 1,633 cruise ships docked at the port between 2007 and 2018.

Cruise industry direct spending associated with the Port of Halifax was $74.3 million in 2018. 

"Employment (full and part time) associated with these expenditures was 554 jobs with wages of almost $22 million. Taxes generated by this activity was $6.8 million," the report said.

"The direct spending has spinoffs on the Nova Scotia economy. In 2018, the total economic output was approaching $172 million, jobs (full and part time) were 950, wages were $45.5 million and taxes paid were $14 million."

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About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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