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ACL diverts calls from Halifax

With Indigenous rail blockades on the CN network entering a third week, the cascading effect on cargo flows at the Port of Halifax has prompted Atlantic Container Line (ACL), the port’s longest standing customer, to provisionally re-route its calls to New York or Baltimore on the US East Coast – starting this weekend. This follows the announcement that Hapag-Lloyd, another major container customer, is exploring options “to move/divert cargo out of Halifax.”

Meanwhile, an estimated 4,000 containers are parked at the docks of the Port of Montreal and the line-up of ships in Vancouver has attained four dozen.

“For two weeks now, it’s come to a grinding halt, so a lot of our customers are just fed up,” said Andrew Abbott, President and CEO of the New Jersey-based carrier. For five decades, ACL vessels have been calling at the Nova Scotia port which handles some 500,000 TEUs annually via two container terminals. CN is the sole rail service linking Halifax with Central Canada and the US Midwest.

“All inbound cargo is piling up on our docks, and cargo destined for export is unable to get here,” Lane Farguson, Communications Advisor of the Halifax Port Authority, told Maritime Magazine. “The cascading effect is building up daily.”

“We are a rail-line port, with 60% of cargo railed to and from Ontario and the U.S. Midwest,” Mr. Farguson added.

“When the Port of Halifax is no longer able to accept import cargo destined for inland markets or receive export cargo from those same inland markets, carriers may stop calling. Simply put, if cargo isn’t moving, the ships stop calling,” Mr. Farguson said in an e-mailed statement today (Friday).

Then, he warned: “A partial or complete port shutdown will be devastating to the reputation of the Port of Halifax as an efficient and reliable gateway. It will also impact confidence in the stability and reliability of the Canadian supply chain.”

In comments to the Halifax Chronicle Herald newspaper, Mr. Abbott expressed regret that, in his view, the federal government allowed the conflict to linger on so long. But it won’t affect ACL’s perception of Halifax as a port of call. “We’ve been there for 53 years, OK? Our ships call there twice a week. We basically consider Halifax as our Canadian home.” (photo HPA)