Ignoring the trade-protectionist elephant in the room, 2017 might actually turn out to be a banner year for most B.C. terminals if First Quarter trends continue. That’s a big ‘if’ however, given the unpredictability of U.S. trade policy. This follows a past year that that has been described, for the most part, as “generally stable.”
Across the board, ports in B.C. handled anywhere from four per cent less to six per cent more tonnage in 2016 than they did in 2017. But there’s always the exception to the rule and this year, Nanaimo was the big winner in terms of increased activity, reporting a whopping 23 per cent jump in total cargo volumes — thanks in no small part to the success of the DP World/Port of Nanaimo short sea shipping partnership.
Photo above: Nanaimo Assembly Wharf (Photo: Nanaimo Port Authority / Arrowsmith Aerial)
Both Vancouver and Prince Rupert saw a drop of between four and five per cent in container volumes but made that up in the First Quarter of 2017, with gains of about five per cent for Vancouver and eight per cent for Prince Rupert.
Grain and specialty crops, while not yet back up to levels seen in 2014, climbed slightly in 2016 to end with a one per cent increase in Vancouver while Prince Rupert saw a two per cent decrease. And while that trend continued at the Prince Rupert Grain Terminal (down 12 per cent in Q1 2017), Vancouver’s grain terminals were seeing increases averaging almost 15 per cent for the beginning of this year over last (report for February 2017).
For coal, a reversal of fortunes can be found at Prince Rupert’s Ridley Coal Terminal. While down 10 per cent in 2016, the terminal’s activity skyrocketed to a 153 per cent increase in Q1 2017. Same with Vancouver’s coal terminals which saw a decrease of about six per cent seen in 2016 but an increase of 15 per cent for thermal coal in February 2017 over 2016. A decrease in the overall movement of metallurgical coal, which decreased by 22.7 per cent in the same period, left the combined tally for coal down by almost 15 per cent. Bucking that trend was animal feed (up 262 per cent), specialty crops (up over 30 per cent), and wheat (down 7.4 per cent).
Forest products — logs, lumber, pulp, wood chips and the like — were up by one per cent in Vancouver overall, while logs in Prince Rupert were up by four per cent in 2016 and, in another exception to the rule, wood pellet tonnages exported by Westview Terminal were 22 per cent higher. In the First Quarter of 2017, logs continued to be down by as much as 22 per cent (but an eight per cent increase at Westview); forest products in Vancouver were stable at an approximate two per cent growth rate.
But, while statistics are great for looking at the big picture, they don’t tell the whole story. For that, BC Shipping News turned terminal operators throughout the province to get a more accurate picture. While efforts are made to include as many terminals as possible, we regret that we couldn’t get to them all.