Port of Vancouver sinks into ‘distress’ as floods in British Columbia cut rail lines and highways

Ship-to-Shore cranes unload shipping containers from a container ship docked at Global Container Terminal’s Deltaport on November 19 in Delta, British Columbia.Alia Youssef / The Globe and Mail

Extreme weather conditions in British Columbia have exacerbated the cargo bottleneck, delaying consumer goods from Asia and delaying bulk exports from the West Coast.

As of Sunday morning, there was a backlog of 54 vessels at anchor, up from 40 on Nov. 19, according to data from the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. The ships included nine container ships in and around the Port of Vancouver, 13 more waiting to fill with coal and 16 with grain.

Before the pandemic, it was much easier to get a time slot instead of having ships at anchor, with around a dozen ships waiting their turn on a typical day, said Marko Dekovic, vice president of public affairs at GCT Global. Container Terminals Inc., which operates two container handling sites in the Vancouver area.

Residents of Abbotsford, B.C. have been ordered to evacuate as constant rains threaten to flood the southern part of the province

Supply Chain Crisis Explained: What Floods, Inflation and Global Shortages in British Columbia Mean for Canadians Leading Up to the Holiday Season

Floods in British Columbia cause highways and railroads to close, damaging fragile supply chains

Mr. Dekovic nervously observed an increasing number of ships having to anchor in and around Canada’s largest port. The Port of Vancouver has four container terminals and over 20 other marine facilities for bulk shipments and a variety of cargo.

“If the ships keep coming in but the rails don’t move, we can’t take any more ships,” Dekovic told The Globe and Mail during a tour of GCT’s Deltaport container terminal in the suburb of Vancouver to Delta.

Two years ago he had confidence in the navigation program because the towering ship-to-shore cranes handled imports and exports like clockwork. But it has been a logistical nightmare since record levels of precipitation triggered flooding and mudslides in the interior of British Columbia and the Fraser Valley, cutting highways and rail lines to and from. from Vancouver on November 15.

GCT Global Container Terminals Inc’s Vice President of Public Affairs, Marko Dekovic, oversees the Global Container Terminal Deltaport site.Alia Youssef / The Globe and Mail

The provincial government declared a state of emergency two days later, and the Port of Vancouver fell into what Premier John Horgan called a state of “distress.”

The ensuing transportation chaos serves as a warning, with industry experts saying Canada’s supply chain is tenuous and it will likely take months, not weeks, to recover. lingering effects of the pandemic and now flooding.

On November 24, Deltaport finally saw trains arriving again, but rail traffic is far below normal. Access to the highway for trucks is either hampered by delays or always blocked. Over the weekend, sections of three highways were closed as a precaution due to heavy rains.

Train and trucking delays were widespread, disrupting, for example, the transportation from Quebec of cardboard used to make panels and boxes in British Columbia.

“It’s all connected,” Dekovic said, as a ship-to-shore crane placed one container after another on a constant stream of “bomb wagons” – the heavy-duty trucks that “bomb” to transport boxes in. reusable steel inside. the sprawling terminal.

Freight trucks coming from industrial storage sites must return empty containers to the docks. Thousands of empty containers have piled up at industrial sites and docks in the Vancouver area. Deltaport, however, cannot quickly load these voids onto the ships as the terminal’s three berths are occupied by already delayed ships.

Rows of unused trains are loaded with stacks of shipping containers on the tracks near the Deltaport of Global Container Terminal, awaiting the reopening of the Vancouver rail system after its temporary shutdown following damage from flooding and lava flow mud.Alia Youssef / The Globe and Mail

The problem with the increase in the number of ships at anchor dates back to the fall of 2020, when consumers stranded at home due to pandemic lockdowns began ordering goods online in droves. Shortages of dockworkers around the world, along with new health protocols for ship crews, contributed to the longer preparation required to set sail, and ships began to retreat along trade routes across the globe. .

Deltaport and other terminals had managed to stay “smooth” for most of the pandemic, moving freight despite all challenges. But a sign of chaotic times, instead of waiting for containers to be loaded with Canadian goods, shipping companies are paying to send them empty to Asia so they can be filled faster for the return trip to Canada. For two containers arriving from overseas this year, one is returned empty.

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority believes more industrial land is needed to store containers away from docks to reduce bottlenecks and boost Canadian exports.

“Shipping lines are simply returning empty containers to Asia, leaving Canadian exporters empty-handed,” Robin Silvester, chairman of the port authority, said in a speech Thursday to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.

At the Deltaport site, which covers 85 hectares, Canada’s largest container terminal is no more than a shadow of itself. At the start of last week, it was only running a fifth of its normal activity because the rail lines had been closed for eight days. The cantilevered rail gantries that normally handle containers for trains had nothing to load or unload.

Port of Vancouver spokeswoman Matti Polychronis said even before the pandemic, extreme winter conditions would disrupt supply chains, with anchorages reaching maximum capacity.

The rail-mounted cantilever gantries and trains loaded with containers stand idle and await the reopening of the Vancouver rail system.Alia Youssef / The Globe and Mail

This time it’s different as the bottlenecks continue, Mr Dekovic said. Many of these ships anchored in the Salish Sea are found in passages near Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Others wait on or near Burrard Inlet, along the downtown Vancouver waterfront.

When ships find a berth, it takes longer than usual to unload and load. The Panamanian-flagged MSC Flavia left South Korea on October 22 to cross the Pacific Ocean with her load of containers and anchored on November 12, before docking at Deltaport on November 17.

He had to deal with delays while waiting for the containers to arrive by train for loading. After unloading the containers and finally loaded, the ship is expected to depart later this week – about 10 days late.

At Coast 2000’s industrial storage site in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, empty containers are stacked six or seven heights. “We continue to have very high levels of empty container inventory with the surge of imports coming into Vancouver,” said Matthew May, president of Western IntermodeX Ltd.

IntermodeX provides container warehousing and is the parent company of Coast 2000, which leases land from the Port of Vancouver. “We need to move empty containers more frequently, but also fill export boxes whenever possible,” May said as he walked past a stack of refrigerated containers.

Western IntermodeX President Matthew May stands among stacks of shipping containers at the Coast 2000 site of Western IntermodeX, which provides warehousing and other intermodal services.Alia Youssef / The Globe and Mail

With demand for services outstripping supply, container shipping prices have skyrocketed globally over the past 20 months. The World Container Index from Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd. has fallen since September, but at US $ 9,186 for shipping a 40-foot container last week, the barometer more than tripled over a year ago.

The volatile Baltic Dry Index, a leading indicator of shipping rates for transporting dry raw materials on major global routes, has risen sharply since the start of the pandemic, but has fallen since early October amid concerns about slower than expected demand for bulk products in China.

Dennis Darby, president of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, said many of its member companies depend on components imported from Asia or must export goods across the Pacific.

Increasing container capacity would help, but Canada’s shipping, trucking and rail sectors are only as strong as their weakest link. A series of setbacks – from congested ports to rutted highways to broken railroads – has shown how easy it is for Canada’s supply chain to move from a transparent supply chain to a chaotic situation. “It’s the tenuous nature of the thin supply chain,” Mr. Darby said.

Anytime there is a trade disruption on the west coast, it creates significant delays that stretch east to manufacturers in the Prairies and in Ontario and Quebec. Before the pandemic, a manufacturer of springs, teeth and other wire products could get materials from South Korea in three months. Now the wait is double.

“With the port of Vancouver in distress, the rest of Canada is feeling it,” Horgan said Friday night at a joint press conference in Victoria with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “We have more storms ahead – it’s only November.”

Your time is precious. Receive the Top Business Headlines newsletter delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. register today.

Comments are closed.