Port Saint John 'rising to the challenge' after nearly $8M drop in revenue, says CEO

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Port Saint John has a new international shipping line through an agreement between Canadian Pacific Railway and the German international shipping company, Hapag Lloyd. The first vessel, the Liverpool Express, arrived from the Mediterranean on May 27. (Port Saint John - image credit)
Port Saint John has a new international shipping line through an agreement between Canadian Pacific Railway and the German international shipping company, Hapag Lloyd. The first vessel, the Liverpool Express, arrived from the Mediterranean on May 27. (Port Saint John - image credit)

Port Saint John's revenue dropped by nearly a third to $16.5 million in 2020, but CEO Jim Quinn considers the year a success.

It was "certainly a year like no other," he told the annual general meeting Monday, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The loss the of cruise ship season accounted for the bulk of the losses, he said. It was the port's first year with no cruise ships since 1988.

"But we did indeed rise to the challenge," Quinn said, a nod to the annual report's title, Rising to the Challenge.

In fact, he contends the port is "well positioned for even stronger performance in the future."

An announcement is coming June 8 in relation to the $205-million west-side modernization project, which Quinn described as being more than half-way completed.

"We're going to be doing a little exposé as part of virtual Port Days where we'll be talking about the results of an economic impact study that has been completed around what we're doing with our modernization," he told CBC News.

"And we'll be talking about another submission we've made to the ... provincial, federal governments to support an enhancement of that project."

Quinn declined to elaborate, other than to say it involves a further expansion, and that the economic impact will be "significant."

The modernization project, which includes a new pier and a deeper, wider channel, is scheduled to be complete in 2023. Construction began in 2020 and is funded by the federal and provincial governments and the port.

The $205-million west Saint John port modernization project is scheduled to be complete in 2023.
The $205-million west Saint John port modernization project is scheduled to be complete in 2023.(Port Saint John)

In March 2020, as soon as it became clear the cruise industry was at risk, the port acted quickly to reduce expenditures without affecting operations, Quinn said. For example, it delayed some capital projects, and travel was "pretty much eliminated."

Meanwhile, terminal operator DP World brought in its highest container volume yet in four years at 580,270 metric tonnes — a 19 per cent increase over 2019.

Overall cargo tonnage rose two per cent to nearly 26 million metric tonnes. This growth was in containers, dry bulk and import liquefied natural gas (LNG), said Quinn.

The dry bulk sector included the export of potash and recycled metals as well as the import of gypsum and petroleum coke

Despite challenges due to rail blockades early in 2020, potash markets rebounded in 2020, jumping to 619,230 metric tonnes, from 285,288.

"Saint John continues to have a geographic advantage for distribution of Saskatchewan-produced potash to South America and other global markets," said Quinn. "As I like to say, we do have a pipeline from the West, it's our potash pipeline from Saskatchewan."

Liquid bulk, which includes crude oil, petroleum, liquefied natural gas, fish oil, molasses, caustic soda, calcium chloride and magnesium chloride, increased by about 320,000 tonnes.

We are excited about what the future holds for us. - Jim Quinn, Port Saint John CEO

Several major developments occurred in 2020 that will continue to positively impact container cargo, said Quinn.

Canadian Pacific Railway's acquisition of the Central Maine and Quebec Railway has returned Saint John to the unique position of being the only port east of Montreal serviced by both of Canada's Class 1 railways — CP and Canadian National Railway.

"CP is making a very large statement by re-establishing themselves here," said Quinn. "Their plan is to make Saint John their hub on the east coast of Canada."

Saint John also has a new international shipping line, thanks to a deal between CP and an agreement between the Canadian Pacific Railway and German international shipping company, Hapag Lloyd in late 2020.

Between six and seven ships, similar to a bus route, will travel through the Mediterranean, to Saint John, Montreal and then back to the Mediterranean.

The first vessel, the Liverpool Express, arrived from the Mediterranean last Thursday.

"We are excited about what the future holds for us," Quinn said.