Nova Scotia

Port of Sydney deal could bring massive container ships to Cape Breton

Ports America, the biggest terminal operator in North America, has inked a deal to work with Sydney Harbour Investment Partners to develop and run Novaporte, the planned marine container facility in the Port of Sydney.

'This is the turning point for the Port of Sydney,' says Mayor Cecil Clarke

Sydney would be the first North American port able to handle the new generation of massive container ships if plans come together. (HPDP)

Sydney could be poised for a burst of economic growth as the only North American port able to handle a new ultra-large generation of container ships if plans announced Monday come to fruition.

Ports America, the biggest terminal operator in North America, said it's signed a deal to work with Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP) to develop and run Novaporte, the planned marine container facility in the Port of Sydney.

Under the agreement, Ports America would manage and operate the Cape Breton terminal for 40 years and provide services such as full stevedore and terminal labour management, terminal operating systems, and maintenance and repair.

First port for ultra-large ships in North America

Peter Ford, the chief strategy officer for Ports America, told CBC's Mainstreet Cape Breton the partnership could bring the huge ships to North America's east coast.  

"That possibility doesn't exist today with the existing port structure," he said. "Here we have a great deepwater port opportunity close to the European trade lanes where these ultra-large ships are operated." 

SHIP has exclusive development rights to 202 hectares in the port and plans to build a deepwater marine container facility able to handle the new vessels.

Ford said Ports America shares SHIP's vision and now they just have to decide how much to build at the port, and when. A press release announcing the plans said work would start within two years.

"It's a little premature to say that we're going to be digging within 24 months," said Ford. "I would love for that to happen and I think that's our optimistic case right now.'

40-year deal would bring economic growth

Ports America has 80 locations across the U.S., including New York, but Ford said Sydney would do what the other ports can't.

Ports America says Sydney has the potential and the capacity to host ultra-large container ships. (Warren Gordon)

"There's capacity and then there's the right capacity," said Ford. 

"What we see with the Sydport possibility is we're going to have the right type of capacity for these ultra-large container ships that doesn't exist at all on the U.S. east coast."

He said the proposed 40-year deal would radiate economic growth around the port and in the community.

"Successful ports are massive economic generators," he said. "We have high hopes for this."

Cecil Clarke, mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, said he'll take more information to council this week. 

"This is a great opportunity for us, being the first super hub in North America and being that continental link," he told Mainstreet. "This is the turning point for the Port of Sydney."

Halifax too small for new giants

Clarke said Ports America's global reach will connect Sydney to that worldwide market. He said Halifax doesn't have the ability to handle the ultra-large ships and has no financing in place to get to that capacity.

"There's more questions now about the future of that port because everyone recognizes that these mega-ships are now a reality," he said.

The mayor called it a "transformative investment" from the private sector.

"[It] isn't about government providing the opportunity, it's about the private sector creating opportunities that governments help facilitate," he said. 

"That's what we wanted — to get out of that cycle that's been here for generations and to get on with a new opportunity that is going to grow prosperity, investment and make us relevant and known across this entire globe."

Neither Clarke nor Ford offered a timeline for when they expect to announce the next step with the plans.

With files from Mainstreet Cape Breton

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