The Port of Vancouver’s cargo volume dropped 11 per cent in the first half of this year as grain shipments fell and supply chains sputtered.
Canada’s largest port released its midyear statistics on Thursday, saying it handled 68.3 million tonnes of cargo in the first six months of 2022, compared with 76.4 million tonnes for the same period in 2021.
Global freight rates have plunged after hitting record highs last year, and now economic uncertainty is clouding the shipping outlook for the rest of 2022.
Flooding and mudslides in the B.C. Interior and the Fraser Valley severed highways and rail lines in and out of Vancouver last November, with the supply chain congestion extending into early 2022.
Globally, shortages of dock workers contributed to the longer preparation required to set sail, disrupting delivery schedules on trade routes. Within Canada, there have been inland delays at warehouses, triggering other freight bottlenecks, including ships having to wait longer than usual for a berth spot.
After a weak harvest in Canada, grain shipments declined to 7.9 million tonnes in the first half at the Port of Vancouver, down 58 per cent from the year-earlier period.
“Grain was really down and that was really all about the poor harvest on the Prairies last year,” Robin Silvester, president of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, said in an interview on Thursday. “Grain volumes are starting to move back up again, so that’s obviously an important boost for the economy.”
In sharp contrast to the grain slump, coal deliveries rose 23 per cent year-over-year to 21.9 million tonnes.
Cruise ships returned to the port in April, resuming service after the lifting of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
On the container side, business has slowed and freight rates have tumbled. Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd.’s world container index has plummeted 57 per cent over the past 12 months, falling to US$4,472 for transporting a 40-foot container this week.
The shipping industry deploys large vessels to carry containers, which are reusable steel boxes measured as 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs.
More than 1.8 million TEUs of exports and imports went through the Port of Vancouver in the first half, down 7 per cent compared with the first six months of 2021.
In 2021, a strong showing as measured by TEUs marked the fifth consecutive year that a new annual record was set for container traffic at the port.
Vessels loading and unloading in the Vancouver area typically have room to each carry between 6,000 to 13,000 standardized containers, depending on a ship’s size.
The port is touting its plans for a new $3.5-billion container terminal to be located near Delta, B.C., about 30 kilometres south of Vancouver. The project, called Roberts Bank Terminal 2, or RBT2, would be completed by 2030.
The port believes it would be a much-needed expansion of container capacity on the West Coast.
“It’s in the core of our mandate to provide competitive capacity, and Terminal 2 is a project that’s big enough to bring a new operator into the port,” Mr. Silvester said. “We will be very focused on getting a competent private-sector operator and very focused on the competitive dynamic in the port.”
RBT2, however, is facing opposition from one of the port’s own tenants, GCT Global Container Terminals Inc., which runs a container site near Delta.
GCT has devised its own plans to expand container capacity at its three-berth Deltaport facility, proposing a fourth berth in a project called Deltaport 4, or DP4.
“GCT’s proposed DP4 expansion remains the better option,” GCT vice-president of public affairs Marko Dekovic said in an e-mail on Thursday. “It is the smart, incremental and responsible project that will come to market in the same time frame.”
Under its proposed DP4 expansion, GCT has forecast a total cost of up to $2-billion to add two million TEUs of annual container capacity at its facility by 2031. RBT2 would add 2.4 million TEUs a year at a higher estimated price than the DP4 project.