A pair of new super-post-Panamax cranes will soon alter the metro skyline over the Fairview Cove container terminal and operator Cerescorp expects increasing cargo will keep them busy.

The new gantry cranes arrived at the Ceres terminal on the weekend and over the next few months they will be assembled and made operational, Cerescorp vice-president Calvin Whidden said Tuesday.

The new cranes, built by Liebherr Container Cranes Ltd. at its facility in Killarney, Ireland, will be able to reach across 22 containers, “which enables us to unload any size vessel in the world,” Mr. Whidden said. The widest vessel calling at the terminal now is 15 containers wide, but Mr. Whidden said the terminal will soon be handling vessels of up to 18 containers wide.

The two cranes will give Cerescorp, a subsidiary of Ceres Terminals Inc. of New Jersey a total of five gantry cranes, three of which are super-post-Panamax (ships too wide to pass through the Panama Canal).

James White, Ceres Terminals’ chief operating officer, said the $20 million for the cranes, plus the $2.5 million Ceres spent in the past year on additional container-handling equipment for the terminal, represents a significant commitment to the port.

George Malec, the Halifax Port Authority’s vice-president of operations and security, said the authority is “pleased” with Ceres’ investment in the cranes.

It is “an example of how the port authority is aligning itself with its terminal operators in terms of creating infrastructure and spending the necessary capital in making these projects come about,” he said.

Last year the authority spent about $3 million on crane rail infrastructure for the terminal and is spending about $3 million on electrical upgrades this year for the cranes and to increase by 200 the number of electrical plugs on the terminal for refrigerated containers.

Although Ceres’ cargo volumes are down slightly this year, Mr. White said Tuesday he expects them “to come back strong,” and optimistically he says there is plenty of room to grow.

“This terminal, by today’s standards and operating gear, is probably operating at about 50 per cent,” he said, but with the new equipment and technology, it is expected cargo volumes will be able to increase threefold, “which will take us out at least another 10 years.”

The Ceres spokesman says he sees some things happening that he expects will spark growth.

The port authority has been marketing Halifax in India and Asia, and industry forecasts predict major growth from those two regions in the next five to seven years.

Atlantic Container Lines, a Ceres customer, has been coming into Halifax with full ships and although it may not have any additional vessel capacity, Mr. White says, “we have been talking to them and they are thinking about adding vessels to their profile.”

“But then again they are looking at different trade lanes too, not only North Europe, but they have started a service into West Africa and who knows what that will lead to.”

Mr. White says North Europe continues to be promising with trade growth between six per cent and 10 per cent in recent years, and he sees Halifax as a possible benefactor of possible West Coast labour issues and port congestion.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union on the U.S. West Coast will begin negotiations for a new contract early in 2008; its contract expires in July 2008. The union went on strike trying to get its last contract.

Mr. White said several shippers and consignees have diverted freight since that time, and with West Coast cargo still growing and very little room to expand port facilities, “I think there are great opportunities here in Halifax for the future.”