Port of Montreal

Celebrating 50 Years of Global Containerization

Whether it’s a cargo freighter transferring goods or a passenger liner taking vacationers on luxury cruises, the shipping industry has historically been an extremely efficient mode of transportation from one place to another.

One of this country’s oldest and most vital shipping hubs is the Port of Montreal, which is located on the St. Lawrence River in Montreal. At a distance of 1,600km from the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean the port is the shortest direct route from Europe and the Mediterranean to North America. As a leading international container port it services Toronto and the rest of Central Canada, the U.S. Midwest, and the U.S. Northeast. Including engineers, administration staff and those involved in rail operations takes the staff count to about 240 at the Port but that number balloons to about 16,000 indirect employment jobs that are dependent upon what travels in and out.

Merchandise such as food products, fresh produce, electronic equipment and forestry products that are transported by container through Montreal mainly originate from – or are destined for – Northern Europe, Asia and the Mediterranean and it contributes billions of dollars in economic benefits.

The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Sophie Roux, Vice President, Public Affairs at the Port of Montreal, about several key milestones taking place this year.

“With this year being the 375th anniversary of Montreal and the 150th anniversary of Confederation we are letting it be known to the public that we are a part of that rich history as a key foundation element of the City of Montreal and also the industrialization and immigration in populating Canada,” begins Roux.

Diversification of Services

The Port of Montreal is the second-largest port in Canada after Vancouver and it is widely recognized as the most important port in eastern Canada both in terms of shipping volume and also by the fact it’s the only container port of the five port authorities situated on the St Lawrence River. As a large diversified transshipment center the Port of Montreal is an engine of the regional supply chain of Montreal, the province of Quebec, Canada and throughout the world.

Roux says that one of the Port’s key assets is its excellent geographic location. “You have to sale 1,600km to get to us from the Atlantic Ocean but once you’re here you’re within a day of trucking within the heartland of Canada reaching 40 million consumers in both Canada and the United States. Two days via train will have goods transported as far as the U.S. Midwest.”

Containers are completely unloaded and loaded from some of the largest shipping lines in the world including CMA, CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, Maersk, Mediterranean Shipping Company and OOCL.

“While the economy has been tough since 2008 the fact that we are diversified has certainly helped us,” says Roux.

The official numbers for last year have not yet been released but Roux says 2016 produced another record high for the Port of Montreal in terms of total tonnage.

“Over 35 million tons transited through the Port last year. The liquid bulk and grain really drove success while the container traffic remained stable. “We handled just over 1.4 million TEUs last year,” says Roux.

“Again, what sets us apart is our geographic location. We’re a diversified port and have been able to expand the markets that we serve. The fleet of representatives that we have in the United States, Europe and Asia have been really helpful in that regard,” says Roux.

Over the past 10 years the Port has been extremely successful in its efforts to further diversify. A decade ago, less than 1% of the Port’s overall business was from Asia; it’s now grown to 23%. Roux says it’s not a natural connection but with the phenomenon of transshipment and the Suez Canal, it’s been a huge game changer.

50 Years of Container Shipping

Also of note is that the Port of Montreal is celebrating its 50th year of container shipping, which is a major milestone in supply chain. In 1967, the Port handled its first container and the following year it opened the first Canadian container terminal. In 1967, the port handled more than 11,300 TEU containers for a single shipping line. By comparison the Port handled in excess of 1.4 million TEUs last year and almost 35 million TEUs have transited through Montreal’s port facilities over the past half century.

“The 50 years of container handling in Montreal is a huge anniversary for us. We’re cognizant that it’s been a key driver in the port’s success and growth,” notes Roux.

The Federal government has played a major role in supporting the shipping industry in Canada and has contributed just under $44 million to help the Port of Montreal optimize its capacity on three fronts in terms of container capacity, road access and marine access. The money helped launch a fourth International container terminal last November. Any further expansion beyond that would have to be done outside of the island of Montreal. The Port has been very efficient during the last decade in being able to reinvent itself within the same square footage. Once it’s fully operational, likely within the next few years, it will give an additional container capacity of 600,000 TEUs bringing the total container capacity on the Island of Montreal to 2.1 million TEUs. The Port does own 4km of waterfront in Contrecoeur and about 468 hectares of land, which is where further expansion could occur in the future.

In addition to the vast amount of cargo shipping taking place at the Port there is also a sizable complementary cruise business. In fact, the Port has refurbished the cruise terminal at the Alexandra Pier and Iberville Passenger Terminal in time for the arrival of the first cruise vessel of the year on May 6. The Port Authorities have come together in a meaningful way to market the St. Lawrence as a tourist destination for cruises. Montreal is well known as the turnaround port for the cruise business.

“You sail 1,600km down the river. So people either start their journey here or the end up here as a final destination,” says Roux.

In 2012 there was the creation of the Montreal Cruise Committee with huge promotions as a key destination. There were about 30,000 that year.

“Last year we had close to 86,000 passengers and crew members. This year, we already know we are expecting at least 110,000 people,” reveals Roux.

Sustainable Practices

There are also numerous environmental licences required. Roux says they are in the middle of the environmental process now in anticipation of expansion down the road. “By the end of the spring we’ll be submitting our impact study to the federal agency that has jurisdiction of our business. We’re hopeful to get our environmental permits and licenses and by the end of 2018, after which we’d be able to start building. There’s already a buzz around this new container terminal. We’re raising awareness with our fleet representatives around the world. We hope to be operational by the middle of the next decade. This terminal has a three-phase capacity. In addition to the capacity on the Island of Montreal, the first phase of the new terminal would give us 1.15 million TEUs.”

The Port of Montreal was also a founding member of the Green Marine Alliance, which sets targets with the aim of being more environmentally friendly and a notion of improved sustainable development. The Port has also been directly involved with an innovative project launched a year ago that is aimed to assist the trucking segment. It’s a new trucking app that drivers can use in real-time to determine wait times, which can help to avoid excess congestion. Less wait time means less idling, which in turn helps to reduce emissions.

In spite of being located at the end of a long river, the Port of Montreal is identified as an ocean port due to the number of international markets it connects with.

“We’re a niche port that competes remarkably well with U.S. port giants because we manage to have a very fluid logistic chain that makes the circulation of goods very efficient. Containers do not stay on our docks for more than two days,” says Roux. “Whatever we do we do it to the best of our ability and within our own capacity and we continue to be innovative.”


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