What does the Panama Canal’s giant ship backlog bode for Halifax? | News | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
The Tropic Lissette container ship returns to Halifax on Aug. 27, 2023.

What does the Panama Canal’s giant ship backlog bode for Halifax?

Container ships, cruise ships, cargo ships and other vessels bound for Halifax the week of Aug. 21-27, 2023.

Remember that time during Covid when a grounded container ship brought traffic on the Suez Canal to a halt for six days, and we all had a little laugh about it? Well, now the Panama Canal is having its own moment. Historic droughts in the normally rainy region of South and Central America have led to upwards of 200 ships stuck waiting—some for as long as three weeks—to pass through the crucial shipping channel. In Panama’s 143 years of record-keeping, 2023 has been one of the two driest, according to data the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute provided to Reuters. The Panama Canal Authority has responded by telling ships to offload cargo to make it through the shallower waters, which link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through a series of three lakes.

Six percent of all global trade passes through the 65-kilometre channel, but a global climate emergency poses a threat to the canal’s future. Forecasts call for drier conditions in Panama into next year, too. That effect isn’t felt as strongly in Halifax as it is in the US: Most of the ships arriving in port here are coming from Europe, or the Caribbean, or India and Southeast Asia via the Suez Canal. But it doesn’t require a long memory—or much imagination—to foresee what can happen to the flow of goods across Atlantic Canada when another natural disaster strikes.

Will our governments heed the calls for climate action? And will that action—in whatever form it comes—be enough, or a case of too little, too late?

Here’s a look at what’s coming in and out of port in Halifax this week:

Monday, Aug. 21

The ZIM Luanda container ship arrived just before 6am from Valencia, Spain. It left later Monday evening for New York City. The ship’s owner, the Israel-based ZIM Integrated Shipping Services, made news last month for downsizing its container fleet amid lower shipping demand. Last year, the Luanda’s peer, the ZIM Kingston, made bigger headlines after catching fire off the coast of Victoria, BC.

click to enlarge What does the Panama Canal’s giant ship backlog bode for Halifax?
Wolfgang Fricke (CC BY 3.0)
The ZIM Luanda container ship, seen in Hamburg in 2021, arrived in Halifax on Aug. 21, 2023.

The 130-metre-long Selfoss container ship came into port around 7:45am. It arrived from Reykjavik, Iceland, and left shortly after noon for Portland, Maine.

Three more ships rounded out Monday’s arrivals: The Baie St. Paul bulk carrier and the NYK Romulus and Atlantic Sea container ships berthed around 2pm, 3:30pm and 3:50pm, respectively, inbound from Charlottetown, PEI; Saint John, NB; and Liverpool, UK. The Atlantic Sea left Halifax early Tuesday for New York City, while the NYK Romulus departed early Tuesday for Southampton, UK.

Tuesday, Aug. 22

It’s oddly fitting that in the week after Halifax rocker Joel Plaskett released a song called “Hey Moon,” a ship named after the moon would arrive in Halifax Harbour. The Augusta Luna—which translates from Latin as “magnificent moon” or “great moon”—came into port from Moa, Cuba, around 6:45am. As of late Tuesday morning, the 144-metre-long cargo ship was docked at the South End Container Terminal. It’s slated to leave late Wednesday night for Bilbao, Spain.

Remember the GPO Grace and GPO Sapphire? (If you’ve strolled the Halifax waterfront this spring or summer, you do: They’re the ones you’ve seen loaded up with wind turbine parts that will eventually head to Martha’s Vineyard.) The ships’ sibling, the GPO Emerald heavy load carrier, came into port just after 8:30am from Aviles, Spain. It’s docked next to the Woodside ferry terminal.

Finally, the Maersk Kaya oil tanker completed a 13-day crossing from Amsterdam, Netherlands. It’s berthed next to the GPO Emerald.

Wednesday, Aug. 23

If all goes well, the ONE Eagle container ship is set to wrap a 23-day voyage from Colombo, Sri Lanka. The 364-metre-long container ship left on July 31 and passed through the Suez Canal on Aug. 11. The ship has a summer deadweight of 139,335 tonnes—which would likely cause it some problems if it had to pass through the Panama Canal right now.

click to enlarge What does the Panama Canal’s giant ship backlog bode for Halifax?
Corey Seeman / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The Oceanex Sanderling, seen in Halifax in 2018, returns to the Halifax Harbour on Aug. 23, 2023.

Also due to arrive Wednesday are the Oceanex Sanderling ro-ro/cargo ship and the Atlantic Sky—the latter of which sounds like a follow-up song to Plaskett’s “Hey Moon.” The Oceanex Sanderling is inbound from St. John’s, NL, while the Atlantic Sky container ship is en route from Norfolk, Virginia.

Thursday, Aug. 24

The first cruise ship arrival of the week comes toward the week’s end: The 1,960-passenger Zuiderdam cruise ship is due at the Halifax Seaport on the return leg of a 35-day trip from Boston through Atlantic Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, the Netherlands and Ireland. Earlier in June, climate activists blocked the Zuiderdam from leaving port in Rotterdam, Netherlands, in the midst of a call for the Dutch city to ban cruise ship visits. (The luxury travel vessels have come under heightened scrutiny for their high carbon emissions in recent years, which can equate to roughly 150 tonnes of fuel for a single ship, every day.)

Later Thursday, the Nolhan Ava ro-ro/cargo ship and ONE Apus container ship are due for arrival. The former is expected from St. Pierre and Miquelon, while the latter is currently docked in Norfolk, Virginia.

Friday, Aug. 25

Traffic picks up in Halifax Harbour toward the week’s end: Four vessels are expected to arrive in port on Friday, including the Rita M oil tanker. The ship left Antwerp, Belgium, for Dartmouth on Aug. 15. (There is some debate over when the tanker will arrive; according to VesselFinder, it could come as early as Thursday morning.)

click to enlarge What does the Panama Canal’s giant ship backlog bode for Halifax?
Bahnfrend (CC BY-SA 4.0)
The Oberon vehicle carrier, seen in Fremantle, Australia, in 2017, arrives in Halifax on Aug. 25, 2023.

The Wallenius Wilhelmsen-owned and operated Oberon vehicle carrier is slated to arrive at Eastern Passage’s Autoport around 5:30am. The ship is currently en route from Southampton, UK, after stops in Spain, Belgium and Germany.

Lastly, the X-Press Sagarmala and NYK Constellation container ships are due at the South End Container Terminal and Fairview Cove Terminal, respectively. The former left Lisbon, Portugal, on Aug. 18, while the latter departed that same day from Antwerp.

Saturday, Aug. 26

When I was a kid growing up in Waterloo, Ont., I lobbied to spend every birthday lunch or dinner at the same restaurant: Mongolian Grill. Year after year after year my family would return, as faithfully as the sun would rise and the Maple Leafs would bungle another season. I loved the food, but it was the ritual I appreciated more—even if my family would’ve rather eaten elsewhere. That same devotion feels fitting to ascribe to the 1,430-passenger Zaandam cruise ship, set to make its 16th stop in Halifax this year. No other cruise ship comes even close to matching its devotion to donairs and overpriced boardwalk ice cream.

Rounding out the day’s expected arrivals are the Vistula Maersk, MSC Sao Paulo V, ZIM China and CMA CGM Laperouse container ships. The Laperouse—named for the French explorer who fought the British in Newfoundland and later shipwrecked in the Solomon Islands—is the largest ship of the bunch, at 366 metres long and with a carrying capacity of 165,422 tonnes. The ship comes to Halifax from Tanger Med, Morocco.

Sunday, Aug. 27

It’s a quieter end to the week, with just two scheduled arrivals: The 680-passenger Insignia cruise ship and Tropic Lissette container ship. The former stops in Halifax on the tail end of a 17-day voyage from Iceland to New York, while the latter is currently berthed in the US Virgin Islands.

About The Author

Martin Bauman

Martin Bauman, The Coast's News & Business Reporter, is an award-winning journalist and interviewer, whose work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Calgary Herald, Capital Daily, and Waterloo Region Record, among other places. In 2020, he was named one of five “emergent” nonfiction writers by the RBC Taylor Prize...
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