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Marine Delivers Magazine 2021

New container ship route between Hamilton and Montreal has big plans

Proponents believe timing is ideal as businesses seek alternatives to avoid road congestion and reduce carbon emissions.

A new container service has been launched between the ports of Hamilton and Montreal with big plans for shortsea shipping.

The Hamilton Container Terminal (HCT) has partnered with the Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority (HOPA), Federal Marine Terminals, Groupe Desgagnés and MSC on the first voyage of a feeder service that diversifies the St. Lawrence Seaway’s use.

On June 12, the MV/Sedna Desgagnés left the Port of Hamilton carrying 282 containers with mostly scrap steel to Montreal for transloading to overseas vessels.

Amandeep Kaloti, HCT’s president, says the launch has been in the works for years, starting with essential infrastructure. “There was no container terminal in this region, so we opened ours in 2017,” he shares. “Since then we’ve been creating the right ecosystem to bring this service to life.”

Convincing steamship lines to get on board took lengthy discussions, but Kaloti is now confident the project can be turned into a regular fixed-day weekly service.

Arranging for imports to the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area (GTHA) posed no problem. “The challenge with previous shortsea shipping attempts was that for every three containers arriving, only one went back out full,” Kaloti recalls. “We’re now working with Hamilton-area businesses to ensure that’s not the case as there’s huge potential to export Canadian products overseas.”

Service aims to transport Ontario wines

One example is the Flexi-bag lined containers that HCT has ready with the goal of transporting Ontario wine, petroleum by-products and well as other types of liquid cargo.

A second Hamilton-Montreal voyage is scheduled for July, with a build-up to 20-plus sailings in 2022. 

Ian Hamilton, HOPA’s president, and CEO cites several factors in making the current timing ideal. “The road congestion in North America’s fourth-largest area by population and economy is causing people to seek other ways to move goods,” he explains. “It’s especially the case with the shortage of drivers increasing trucking costs.”

Forward-thinking companies realize modal balance is key to efficiency for their customers, Hamilton adds. “They know drivers have to make that last-mile delivery so it’s best to figure out where their available trucks are best put to use and establish better alternatives for long-distance hauls,” he explains.

Remaining clear of GTHA congestion altogether is a key offering. “Our goal is to have every trucker back on the road within 20 minutes,” Kaloti says. 

At the Port of Montreal, the new container service is welcomed with enthusiasm.

“Adding a new Hamilton-Montreal container service via the St. Lawrence Seaway provides an efficient route to international markets by transiting the Port of Montreal,” states Martin Imbleau, the Montreal Port Authority’s president and CEO.

The partners see the new service as a promising start but emphasize the need for infrastructure and other support in order to scale. 

“We have to find the right economics so that Seaway tolls, piloting and stevedoring costs – none of which trucking companies pay along Highway 401 – don’t make the service prohibitive,” Hamilton says, adding that it helps that the Canadian Seaway authority offers a discount to new businesses and is doing its best to keep the system open longer.

“At the same time, we see that major shippers have gone from wanting to do the right thing if it doesn’t cost anything, to knowing they must invest in their future existence by reducing emissions,” Hamilton says.

Kaloti is determined to make the service work. “My wife and I arrived in Canada in 2002 with only two suitcases but also the belief that if you make up your mind to do something and stay focused, it’ll happen,” he says.