WASHINGTON: The biggest container cargo shipping line in the Caribbean is ditching Saint John for Halifax with a first ship, the Vega Omega, to call on the Port of Halifax early Monday morning. “We were operating out of the Port of Saint John,” Gordon Cole, assistant vice-president of Tropical Shipping, said in an interview Thursday. “This is a complete switch.” Although Tropical Shipping’s roughly 20-person Canadian head office will remain in Saint John, the shipping line’s vessels will now be calling on the Port of Halifax.
“Halifax just offered a lot more connectivity to global carriers and to intermodal opportunities,” said Cole. With that strategic move, the shipping company is hoping to attract more container traffic from global shipping companies that call on the Port of Halifax, and also transfer more container cargo to them. The Port of Halifax’s strong network of trucking companies and the service offered by CN Rail was also a big draw for Tropical Shipping. The company is currently building six new vessels, including two that will be plying Canadian waters, said Cole. “This is a new service for Halifax … (and) what is significant is the connections this will bring,” Lane Farguson, a spokesman for the Halifax Port Authority, said in an interview Thursday. “This will open up new connections for the Port of Halifax.” Tropical Shipping’s Vega Omega will be arriving from St. Maarten at about 7 a.m. Monday and then heads back south again to call on the Port of Palm Beach in Florida.
In the shipping industry, the capacity of container cargo vessels is typically stated in terms of the number of formerly-standard 20-foot containers (TEUs) these ships can hold. By the standard of global shipping companies, the Vega Omega is fairly small, at 1,118 TEUs, compared to some of the behemoths carrying as much as 9,400 TEUs which have called on the Port of Halifax in the past few years. But Tropical Shipping’s arrival in Halifax and the shipping line’s weekly service to Florida, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean is being seen as a strong strategic move for the local port, which currently only has about 12 per cent of its total container traffic going to or coming from the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. During the third quarter of 2016, the Port of Halifax’s total container traffic, both inbound and outbound, was 119,181 TEUs, which means about 14,300 TEUs of container traffic from the Port of Halifax would have come from or gone to the Caribbean and Mediterranean during that time. Certainly, Halterm Container Terminal is expecting Tropical Shipping’s volume of cargo to grow over the next few years.
“The terminal can meet both Tropical Shipping’s performance needs in 2017 and plan for extended operations in 2018 through 2019 when Tropical will take delivery of larger-capacity vessels,” Kim Holtermand, Halterm’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. Halterm currently employs about 100 longshoremen. The Vega Omega has the capacity to bring 550 containers through Halifax during the peak season, including more than 200 refrigerated containers for export. “With our new vessels due to start service in June 2018, Tropical Shipping is working closely with Halterm, CN and the Port of Halifax to build on our specialized reefer trade, all the while enhancing our reputation for loyal customer service,” Tim Martin, Tropical Shipping’s vice-president of commercial and trades, said in a statement. With its arrival in Halifax, Tropical Shipping will also be receiving goods that are less than a container load’s worth at a warehouse on Simmonds Drive in Dartmouth. Although it is new to Halifax, Tropical Shipping has been in the Canadian market for 35 years. The shipping line operates 15 vessels. Owned and operated by Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets, the Halterm Container Terminal boasts natural deepwater and has the capability to handle any size of vessel, and is equipped with four super post-Panamax cranes.