Port of Montreal sees drop in shipments amid ongoing labour dispute

Containers are stacked at the Port of Montreal Friday, March 1, 2019 in Montreal. Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Shipping volumes at the Port of Montreal are dropping amid the spectre of a potential strike, Maritime Employers Association president Martin Tessier says.

“Every day, we are receiving calls to know if we’re going to close,” Tessier said in an interview. “The anxiety of all the importers and exporters, it’s rising like crazy.”

Volume at the port has dropped 1.8 per cent since the start of 2021, Tessier added, as customers look to other ports to ship to and from.

The union representing 1,125 longshore workers and the employer concluded a seven-month truce on March 20, after a 10-day strike last August.

The longshore workers’ union voted on March 21 to reject the employers’ offer, but said it did not intend to submit a strike notice.

READ MORE: Shipping industry warns of disruptions from possible strike at Port of Montreal

The Shipping Federation of Canada, the trade association representing the interests of ocean-going ships, said earlier this month that the situation was causing North American importers and exporters to divert cargo away from the port.

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Tessier said shippers are shifting their business to ports with which the Port of Montreal competes, including New York and Baltimore.

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“We are facing a slowdown in volume based on the fact that, again, the importers and exporters, they don’t want to go through what they’ve been through last summer, and the anxiety is rising day after day,” Tessier said.

The potential strike at the Montreal port threatens to put further pressure on global shipping networks, already strained due to a shortage of container space. Container shipping prices have more than doubled in the last year, data from Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd. shows.

The days-long shutdown of Egypt’s Suez Canal after a massive container ship became stuck in its side wall last week has threatened to further disrupt shipping networks, leading to potential price increases and delays.

In February, the Port of Baltimore saw volumes increase 6 per cent for general cargo and 3 per cent for shipping containers year over year, said William P. Doyle, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration.

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The port attributed its increased volumes to a new contract for rolled paper and the diverting of at least 17 ships since last July from other ports to Baltimore. However, none of those ships was rerouted from Montreal, Doyle said.

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Similarly, a spokesman for the Port of Halifax said that anecdotally, the facility has seen an increase in container cargo traffic, but it was unclear what portion of the additional traffic was attributable to the strike threat in Montreal.

“It’s difficult to say how much is related to situations at other ports,” port spokesman Lane Farguson said.

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