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Canada’s ports and terminals hammered by national rail blockages and shutdown

People talk at a rail blockade on the eleventh day of demonstration in Tyendinaga, near Belleville, Ont., Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020. The protest is in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed to the LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

PortandTerminal.com, February 20, 2020

ACL has suspended calls at Halifax and dozens of cargo vessels are sitting at anchor near the Port of Vancouver as rail blockades bring freight shipments by rail to a halt across much of Canada.

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – Canada’s railways are its jugular vein. The rail blockages are cutting off the lifeblood to its ports. And as the rail blockages across Canada continue, its ports and the people that work at them are amongst the hardest hit by its impact.

Kevin Piper, President of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 269 in Halifax spoke to PortandTerminal.com today about the impact the rail stoppages have had on his members. “I’ve got members who didn’t get a paycheck last week, and probably won’t get one this week either. I’ve got members who have had just 4 hours of work in the past 10 days”, he said, clearly worried by the crisis. “This should have been cleared up days ago” he said echoing the frustration of the majority in Canada’s port and terminal community.

READ: Canada grinding to a halt as rail shut-down and protests intensify. What’s going on?

On the west coast, at the Port of Vancouver alone there are more than 40 ships waiting at anchor as a result of the rail shutdown.

“Due to the recent disruptions in rail operations and protest activity, the demand for anchorages is currently exceeding the availability, causing a backlog of ships waiting to get into port,” said Port of Vancouver spokesperson Danielle Jang.

READ: At least 66 ships stalled off Canada’s west coast due to CN rail blockades

Further east at the Port of Montreal the situation is just as bad. The Port of Montreal may have to shut down because containers cannot be carried out of the port due to rail blockades, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said on Tuesday this week.

On the east coast in Halifax, Lane Farguson, spokesperson for the Port of Halifax summed it up succinctly in a telephone interview with PortandTerminal.com. “Cargo that should be shipped by rail isn’t getting here”, he said. “…and cargo that’s already here can’t get out of the port”.

The docks of Halifax are piled high with in-bound dry and reefer (refrigerated) containers of food and consumer goods that have no way of getting to consumers in Toronto and U.S. cities to which 60 per cent of the port’s cargo is destined.

One shipping line has said enough is enough for now at least.

ACL, a major shipping line and customer of the Port of Halifax announced today that it has decided to no longer ship goods to the Port of Halifax while the rail blockades are ongoing

American Container Lines (ACL) today announced that the shipping line has decided to no longer ship goods to the Port of Halifax while the rail blockades are ongoing. ACL CEO Andrew Abbott said it makes no sense to send goods to a port where they can’t be unloaded and moved by rail to their final destination.

Rival shipping line MSC also issued a statement to its customers today saying that “The ongoing rail blockades are slowing shipments to and from the major Canadian ports, hampering domestic and international cargo and creating backlogs at the marine terminals.”

Trying to manage a bad situation for its customers, MSC is offering them the option of switching from rail to truck for an additional fee. For customers shipping a 40-foot container on the Montreal to Toronto corridor, it will cost an additional $US 350 dollars to ship the container by truck. Customers have little choice but to accept if they want their cargo and MSC is clearly unhappy to be put into a situation where asking them to pay is even necessary.

Neither MSC, ACL or their customers will be quick to forget about the rail mess in Canada and they all have other ports to choose from south of the border in the United States.

Both Kevin Piper, at the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 269 in Halifax and Lane Farguson expressed their shared concern about the longer-term impact of the rail disruption in Canada.

“We’re concerned about it doing irreparable damage to the Port of Halifax,” said Farguson.

“Our members have worked hard and sacrificed to build up the Port of Halifax’s standing. We’re seeing the gains lost and maybe even worse” said Piper.

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