Why aren’t sealifts docked at Iqaluit’s new deepsea port?
Blame the changing tides: Sealift operators, GN, say port is being used as intended
Iqaluit’s deepsea port opened July 25 with a lot of fanfare, a sealskin ribbon cutting and political leaders posing for photos as the MV Qamutik was docked nearby.
Once the big show was over, the Qamutik — an NEAS Sealift ship that was in Frobisher Bay for a cargo delivery — quietly made its way back out to sea.
Later, it appeared to deliver its cargo the old-fashioned way, by barge, instead of at the brand new $84.9-million port.
NEAS Sealift parked at the dock for the unveiling ceremony, however according to vice-president of marketing and sales Marc-André Bougie, organizers told the ship’s crew not to do operations there.
“Probably for safety purposes,” Bougie said.
According to the Government of Nunavut and two sealift companies using the port, the new infrastructure is being used exactly as planned, at least for the time being.
Iqaluit’s deputy mayor, Kyle Sheppard, said there may have been some confusion in the public’s perception of the docks before they opened.
“More than anything, a lot of our expectations were wrong,” he said.
“Poorly managed expectations is what I’ll chalk it up to.”
Bougie credits the confusion to what people thought the deepsea port would be used for. While other types of ships can and will dock right at the port, what sealift ships really need is a ramp.
“I think there was a perception that the port was built for the sealift ships. But it’s a multi-use infrastructure, it’s multi-purpose,” Bougie said.
“So that’s really what our expectation was from the get-go. We didn’t really focus too much on the docking or the operation at the actual berth.”
With the new sealift ramp, Bougie said, barges can take shipments from the sealift ship and bring them to port at any time of day or night.
Previously, sealift ships had a one or two-hour window to work in approximately every 12 hours while the tide was in.
Iqaluit’s bay has some of the world’s highest variances in tide levels. Depending on when a ship is docked, there can be a water level variance of nine to 11 metres, Bougie said.
Some ports, such as on the St. Lawrence, have no tide at all while others might vary by a metre or two.
For tankers or other ships, the extreme tide variance in Iqaluit might not be a big deal, said Bougie, but it is a challenge for sealifts.
For example, if a vessel comes in while the tide is 11 metres below the dock, the shipboard crane operator cannot see onto the wharf.
The ability to use barges in combination with the new all-tide ramp is a “game-changer,” said Brian Tattuinee, business development manager at Nunavut Sealink and Supply Inc.
Unloading cargo took two and a half days at the new port, compared to more than a week under the old system.
As well, having a fenced-off area to unload cargo rather than using the public beach is also having a positive impact.
Tattuniee said he has heard that people’s perception is that new port is not being used, “but that’s not really true,” he said.
“It is being used. People are envisioning a ship being there all the time when [offloading cargo]. We are already leaps and bounds ahead of where we were.”
Representatives from sealift companies and the GN’s Department of Economic Development and Transportation plan to review how this year’s sealift went to improve operations for next year.
“This is all new for us too,” Tattuinee said.
“We need time to understand how this changes our procedures in terms of being able to offload cargo.”
The MV Aujaq is scheduled to arrive in Iqaluit on Aug. 5 to drop off cargo. The plan is for that ship to anchor at sea and unload using barges as well.