Is it a gateway to the lucrative US market, or a hub port for transshipment? The latest paper in AIMS Atlantica series suggests the Port of Halifax could have it both ways and be successful.

In Shipping Out: The Development of a Gateway Hub at the Port of Halifax, author James Frost says “Halifax now has a unique opportunity to establish itself as both a rail-oriented gateway and a water-based transshipment hub.”

A transshipment hub is a container port that provides terminal and marine services to handle the transfer of containers between feeder and mother vessels. Cargo is transferred from large “mother” ships at load centre ports onto small “feeder” ships destined for smaller, regional ports. The concept is akin to a hub-and-spoke airline operation, that saw the national airlines service one regional airport with regional airlines shuffling passengers back and forth between the regional and local airports.

Shipping Out examines hub port developments around the world and finds there are many examples of successful hubs, but not in North America. It suggests Halifax could be the exception.

“Halifax’s position on various Great Circle Routes also means that it is the closest east coast North American port to both South America and South Africa – a fact that most people do not realize – and vessels calling at Halifax could link up with services to Santos, Brazil, and Cape Town, South Africa,” says Frost. However, he points out that the most important Halifax-based feeder services would likely be those to markets in New England.

Halifax could also be used as a pivot point for east-west and north-south trade routes.

“Halifax’s location and relatively low port costs could entice major lines to use it as a transhipment point for cargo from northern and southern Europe as well as south-east Asian cargo routed through the Suez Canal and destined to or from South America,” says Frost.

Shipping Out suggests the quickest and most efficient way to develop a hub port is to build a significant amount of transhipment business.

In transshipping, a hub port potentially handles each container four times: the container is lifted off the inbound mother ship, onto the outbound feeder, off the inbound feeder, and back on to an outbound mother ship; as well, containers are typically grounded either on the quay or in the container yard between ship movements. Each move contributes revenue to the terminal operator.

Such an operation could also substantially increase activity in the Port of Halifax.

To read the complete paper, click here.