Talking up Sydney’s port advantage in China
CBRM consultants ready for meetings with shipping executives, investors later this month
The consultants tasked with drumming up business for the port of Sydney said they plan to leave July 19 for meetings with high-level executives with international shipping companies and investment firms in China.
Barry Sheehy of Harbor Port Development Partners gave an hour briefing on some of the work that he and business partner Albert Barbusci have undertaken since the Cape Breton Regional Municipality council confirmed last month that the men would have a two-year exclusive deal to market Sydney as a commercial gateway to North America.
Barbusci and Sheehy have already been working with the CBRM for 16 months, investing $1.2 million of their own capital into port development.
Sheehy said their travels would take them to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. He wasn’t at liberty to say what companies they’ll be meeting with.
However, he said the process of securing deals with shippers is a long one, and there’s no guarantee they’ll be successful.
Although Sheehy said the project, so far, is moving ahead in a “very positive” manner.
He said finance partners his group has reached out to believe port development in Sydney is feasible.
“We found more than enough Canadian capital willing to fund the project,” Sheehy said
Harbor Port Development Partners already has Bechtel on side conducting engineering studies. Bechtel is the world’s largest private sector construction firm and it has been doing preliminary work at the greenfield site near Sydport, and has been meeting with potential contractors.
All of this work is meant to bring together a consortium of companies to build a container terminal operation in Sydney.
“Then we had to reach out to operators,” Sheehy said.
“The key operator we had to seek out first was marine services. … Containers are a big leap. The interim leap is marine services.”
It meant seeking out services that could offer such things as bunkering, floating dry docks, tugboats, and ship repair. One such operation is McKeil Marine, a Hamilton, Ont.- based company, which plans to set up an operation in Sydport.
“When we get floating dry docks here, we won’t be sending ferries to Boston to be serviced every two years. The marine services future for this harbour is very, very exciting all by itself but it was also fundamental for us to take the next steps forward.”
Sheehy said a robust marine services industry could become apparent in the harbour over the next 12 months.
The process of building a container terminal will take much longer — an expected five- year window, he said.
A lot depends on the railway and ongoing talks with CN Rail, Sheehy added.
Current rail operator, Genesee & Wyoming Inc., is preparing to abandon the line in Cape Breton. Under rules set out by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, the abandonment process cannot begin until October and won’t be completed until sometime next spring.
Rail infrastructure is the linchpin, says Sheehy, because it’s what every shipping company wants secured before making a deal.
“We need a regional strategy, and all this rail ( in the Maritimes) needs to be upgraded. That’s a national investment. We’re talking about an investment on the scale of the (Canadian Pacific Railway).”
At present, Sheehy said a strategy is missing for the Atlantic Gateway.
Montreal should consider playing a part in the gateway plan to increase investment, he said.
The Quebec government announced last month $9 billion in public and private sector spending on the Port of Montreal over the next 15 years in an attempt to boost employment by 30,000 jobs by 2030.
Montreal is the largest Canadian port in eastern Canada, handling more than one million containers each year.
Sheehy said the Port of Montreal is very successful with handling small to medium- sized ships in the 4,000 to 6,000 TEUs ( twenty-foot equivalent units, or containers) range.
However, the port won’t have the ability to handle the next generation of supertankers currently being built, he said.
“To the extent Montreal wants to participate in the future, particularly from a short shipping point of view, it would be helpful to have a base here (in the port of Sydney).”
Barry Sheehy of Harbor Port Development Partners speaks during a briefing on the Sydney transshipment hub project at the Holiday Inn in Sydney, Tuesday morning.