Short sea shipping marine transportationis the movement of cargo by water over relatively short distances. In the Lower Mainland, short sea shipping accounted for almost 35.2 million tonnes of cargo in 2016. Domestic traffic totaled 29.0 million tonnes and US traffic 6.2 million tonnes. For purposes of comparison, that is roughly equal to the historic freight record the Port of Montreal achieved for the same year. While short sea shipping traffic accounts for 26% of Port of Vancouver’s total traffic, it doesn’t always draw the industry attention that one might expect.

The publication Short Sea Shipping in Metro Vancouver indicates that sector grouped into two styles of service: point-to-point tug and barge operations and regularly scheduled, predominantly roll on/roll off ferry services.

Point-to-point service utilizes tug and barges to move bulk raw materials (logs and aggregates) between coastal mills and quarries and the Lower Mainland, primarily on the Fraser River. Manufactured goods (lumber, veneer pulp, and paper) also use short sea shipping.

Regularly scheduled service by roll-on, roll-off ferry operations includes BC Ferries and Seaspan Ferries. The cargo service by BC Ferries is the carriage of trucks on its regularly scheduled ferries. Seaspan Ferries carries trailers primarily from terminals in Delta (Tilbury) and Surrey and rail cars from the Southern Railway of BC barge ramp on Annacis Island.

From a logistics perspective, a drop trailer service is a cost-effective option for many shippers.  In a drop trailer service, trucks leave their trailers at the terminals and do not ride over on the ferries. Trailers are collected on the other side by trucks.

To meet the needs of a growing Island economy, Seaspan introduced two new 488 foot LNG powered ships. The Seaspan Swift and Seaspan Reliant are the first additions to the company’s ferry fleet in 15 years. Built in the Sedef Shipyard in Istanbul, Turkey, the Swift arrived in B.C. in December and started work in January, delivering to Swartz Bay.

In January 2012 DP World Vancouver and the Nanaimo Port Authority signed a three-year agreement that awarded DP World Vancouver the right to operate the Port of Nanaimo’s facilities, including the Duke Point general cargo facility and Assembly Wharf. DP World also operates the Centerm container terminal in Port Metro Vancouver’s Inner Harbour.

The DPW load-on, load-off (Lo-Lo) container barge service transfers containers between DPW’s Centerm container terminal in the Inner Harbour and the Duke Point terminal in Nanaimo. Centerm (operated by DP World) is a well-established facility and is one of four container terminals located within Port Metro Vancouver.

The introduction of the DP World short sea shipping service in 2012 vaulted the Nanaimo Port Authority into the top fifty container ports in North America. In its first full year of operation, the barge service handled approximately 20,000 TEUs in and out. In 2015, the cargo volume was 35,336 TEUs, up 45% from the 24,405 TEU in 2014.

DP World’s short sea shipping service primarily handles export traffic. However, Duke Point has managed some import business, most of it has cleared customs at DP World’s Centerm facility in Vancouver. The service has also done some intermodal boxes for some clients in the trucking community. The Port Authority is already working with DP World to bring in more import boxes.

New potential marine transportation competitors will not have an easy time replicating the factors that drive the success of Seaspan Ferries and DP World. The short sea shipping market in British Columbia includes more possibilities than the existing routes between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Nevertheless, the evidence in this BC Shipping News article suggests that the new increased capacity of the new Seaspan LNG fueled vessels and DP World’s service innovations are setting the pace for the next phase of sustainable short sea shipping growth in our province.