GATEWAY to Asia By Charles Bartlett
ancouver is Canada’s gateway to Asia, handling more cargo than anywhere else in the nation. But the Burrard Inlet, the key maritime approach to the Port of Vancouver, is already crowded. Limited to a capacity of around 10,000 TEU, containerships share the local waterways with passenger ferries, bulkers, breakbulk, car carriers, cruise vessels and several endangered species of whale. On top of this, in November, the Trudeauled government voted to block tankers from accessing the Dixon Entrance north of Vancouver, an inlet ultimately leading to Kittimat and the mouth of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. With the Enbridge pipeline effectively killed, expansion of the southerly Trans-Mountain pipeline from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day now seems certain, potentially increasing tanker traffic in the straits from 30 annual ship calls to 300. The consensus is clear: somehow, more capacity is needed. Less apparent, however, is where to put it.
Superport Ahead? One solution put forward by the Vancouver Port Authority is to install an additional three-berth terminal at the so-called Roberts 36 Marine Log // March 2017
Bank “Superport,” adding 2.4 million TEU of extra capacity. But this will do little to address one of the bigger problems affecting trade in Vancouver. “Once you’ve offloaded this at the container terminals, you have to truck it back and forth between the warehouse and distribution centers which are all along Fraser River,” says Zoran Knezevic, President and CEO of Port Alberni Authority. “It creates a lot of congestion on the road. Our mainland has been suffering from this and I would say there is no end in sight.” Situated in a fjord on the western shore of Vancouver Island, Port Alberni is a small, regional facility handling feeder cargoes from the mainland to the island’s residents. Total throughput is one million tons annually, compared with 138 million tons at the Port of Vancouver last year. But Knezevic has bigger plans. “What we are proposing is a transhipment hub right at the mouth of the Alberni Fjord,” he saiys, “the largest container terminal in Canada, in the Alberni inlet, to use as a hub—a fully automated terminal akin to Rotterdam and Antwerp.” The Port Alberni Transhipment Hub (PATH) would establish a deepwater container terminal capable of accommodating two 22,000 TEU vessels. There are, Knezevic
argues, several other advantages to such a move. “We have all this vast coastline which could be used by barges,” he says. “So instead of [an operator] doing the door-to-door delivery, you could offload and load everything here, and we will sort this onto barges, and deliver via shortsea shipping much closer to the end user.” A storied tradition at the Port of Vancouver, tug capacity for barging is unlikely to come up short in the region. On barges, containers would be much more easily delivered ‘off-terminal’, and 600 trucks can be taken off the roads for every barge. “Using any barge, large or small, you’ll be able to deliver this right next to the warehouse on the Fraser River, which would open up the industrial land that’s available there.” Similarly, “There’s a container terminal in Surrey that could handle 1.2 million TEU, but because there’s a draft and width limitation meaning large containerships can’t go in - this would open up that capacity. They have a perfectly usable container ramp there.” Real estate, says Knezevic, is an issue in Vancouver. Containers offloaded at the Port of Vancouver must be warehoused locally, using increasingly expensive real estate— sometimes even to house empties. “The warehouse space in Vancouver is becoming
Photo Credit: Shutterstock/ romakoma
Port Alberni plots Vancouver’s PATH to growth