Friday, January 18, 2008

A Turning point year for the Port of Prince Rupert

It was a year of progress for the Port of Prince Rupert which provided details on the year just past in a news release provided on the Port of Prince Rupert website. In the report, the port looks back at 2007, a year which highlighted much in the way of forward momentum for Prince Rupert’s waterfront.

Shipment volumes surpassed 10 million tonnes in 2007 for the first time in a decade, a 36.8 per cent increase over 2006 and a 237 per cent jump over 2005. The total cargo volumes for 2007 were listed as 10.6 million tones.
The bulk of the information provided revolves around grain shipments as well as coal and wood pellets and passenger levels through the cruise ship terminal at Cow bay.

Coal increased by 89 per cent with increased growth in that sector expected in 2009.

The start up of a wood pellet operation is expected to provide for more through put into 2008 as exports of BC Forest products from the hard pressed forest sector change from lumber, plywood and pulp to pellets.

Canada’s grain farmers will continue to push grain products through Ridley Terminals into 2008, with the port forecasting a strong demand and high output at Prince Rupert Grain.

The cruise industry continued to bring more visitors through Prince Rupert in 2007, with the Port detailing a 56 per cent increase of visitors landing ashore in the city last year, counting nearly 100,000 passengers in the six month season from April to September. Events in Alaska may dictate whether that number increases or decreases in 2008, as State legislators try to seek an exemption from changes to Federal maritime law in the USA.

But what everyone really wants to know is the success rate of the Fairview Terminal; the recently opened Container Terminal on the waterfront has been touted to become the economic engine in Prince Rupert. And in the first three months of operation the Port is keeping its figures pretty close to the vest.

Perhaps due to the competitive nature of the industry they are hesitant to give competing ports a glimpse into state of their business plan and whether they were on target, ahead or behind the curve they planned for before construction. In their year end review, the Port did announce that the COSCO line had moved 16,703 conatiners through Prince Rupert in the first two months of operation at Fairview, which would be a small dent in the goal of 500,000 TEU’s per year that they hope to reach. That COSCO port call. would work out to 8,351 TEU's a month, meaning that the current vessel call at Fairview would account for roughly 100,218 containers over the course of the year, about one fifth of capacity.

There was talk of reaching a full utilization of that goal in 2008 and the continuation of plans to expand into Phase Two with a desire for a start of construction by 2009.

While the numbers overall both in containers and the bulk carrier shipments certainly provide a much brighter picture of events on the various docks of Prince Rupert in the last year, the great expectations of the container port continue to make for the most interest.

At the moment, the COSCO ship calling at Fairview, makes for a leisurely pace of unloading and trans shipment across Canada and into the USA . It also means that workers on the docks are getting limited hours for the moment, not something that most could bank on as a long term career possibility. With an increase in the usage of Fairview, there will no doubt come more hours and more opportunities but we aren’t there yet.

There have been rumblings that more lines are set to add Prince Rupert to their schedules, but so far no names have been mentioned and no fixed times have been penciled in for expanded arrivals at the Port.

There of course are any number of factors that can impact on the ever changing world of container shipping, where competing ports look for any advantage or provide plenty of pressure to keep their ports full and active. There is the incubating economic slowdown in the USA and the chill it may provide for Canada, the potential for protectionist policies in an election year or even changing directions from Asia, all of which can impact on the shipping dynamic, and likewise current labour negotiations between the ILWU and the Marine Employers association could certainly change any expectations for 2008.

Most of that is beyond the control of the local port authority, but is no doubt of interest to them as well as the community at large which now has such a sense of anticipation about developments at the port.

The bulk of our expectations in the last couple of years have hinged on the progress of Phase One and the promises of Phases Two, Three and beyond. Our local politicians for the most part seem to be banking on the development (sometimes it seems at the expense of other possibilities) to eventually return the city to a semblance of fiscal health and reverse the declining nature of both the local economy and the local population.

That’s perhaps why most folks are so interested in whatever news they can collect from the Port. While thankful that Ridley Terminals and Prince Rupert Grain have shown growth and positive potential, the real interest is on those 20 foot boxes that pass through town, from politicians to business owners, education planners to long suffering local residents, the future is now said to come in on a ship from Asia.

Like kids peering through a fence at a construction site, we collectively are watching for and counting those containers ourselves. Most hoping that the forecasts and projections are close to the mark. Watching the stumbling world economic situation and wondering if events far from town will have an impact on the path of growth on the North coast.

No comments: