Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Double ConRo and big changes [with a correction]

 That elusive beast the ConRo (a ship that carries both containers and Roll-on/ Roll-off cargo at the same time) is a rare sight in the world's ports these days as ships are generally built for one purpose or the other. That is to say that ships are built as (pure) container ships or cargo ships with container capability. RoRo ships are built as Pure Car and Truck Carriers (PCTs) or RoRo only. Combination carrier ConRos are more expensive to build, and generally have less capacity for each type of cargo. The use of flat rack or closed containers to transport automobiles (both licit and not) is becoming more popular too, and for the latter RoRo is not needed. The extreme efficiency of container terminals also means that the cargo is processed out the gate more quickly and less labor intensively.

However some shipping lines have found a niche for ConRos and Halifax is one of  the ports where they can be seen regularly. Atlantic Container Line (ACL) was a pioneer in the ConRo concept starting in the 1960s with its first generation ships. 

 The Atlantic Cinderlla off loads a new Volvo at the Pier 36 ramp in 1970. (Even then hardy German tourists were accompanying their Volkswagen camper vans to North America as passengers on ACL ships - a service that ACL still provides.)

 An early MAFI trailer in the foreground was used to roll cargo onto and off RoRo ships.


The first Atlantic Star at the RoRo ramp, Pier 36.

In anticipation of more RoRo traffic, the port built RoRo ramps into the faces of Pier 30, Pier 34, and Pier 36 before the South End Container Terminal was completed.

 ACL is now on the fourth generation of ConRos, and its five transatlantic sister ships are the largest ConRos in the world. The line maintains a weekly service with ships calling in Halifax both east and westbound. ACL's present day parent company Grimaldi is a RoRo specialist and it operates RoRos and ConRos elsewhere in the world too.

Another ConRo operator, although on a smaller scale is Oceanex Inc. The St.John's, Newfoundland based company maintains two routes: the weekly Halifax / St.John's ConRo service using the Oceanex Sanderling and the Montreal / St.John's service using the ConRo Oceanex Connaigra and the open hatch container-only Oceanex Avalon, both sailing weekly.

[It should be noted that the Oceanex RoRo is for "drop trailers" where the truck driver and his tractor unit do not travel on the ship. The Marine Atlantic service from North Sydney to Newfoundland operates both a conventional ferry service for driver, tuck and trailer (called "live trailer") and a drop trailer service, as well as limited loose freight from terminal to terminal. They also carry livestock (in trailers).]

With rationalization of container terminal operators in Halifax both ACL and Oceanex now use the PSA Fairview Cove facility. Even so it is possible to see two ConRos working at the same time, when the schedules coincide. Today, October 11, the Atlantic Sun (east bound from Norfolk) and Oceanex Sanderling (arriving today from St.John's) were both alongside at Fairview Cove. (It is rare to see two ACL ships in at the same time, but it does happen if there are weather or other delays for one ship.)

The Atlantic Sun occupied the east berth, and since its fixed stern ramp is slewed to starboard, it could still work its RoRo cargo. Oceanex Sanderling was using the built in shore side ramp at the west berth. The ship was built with a stern ramp that can be slewed through about ninety  thity-five degrees to port or to starboard, but that feature may no longer be used in Halifax*.

 Halifax is also home to a third ConRo service, operated by TSMI (Transport St-Pierre et Miquelon International). As part of the aforementoned PSA rationalization, TSMI has moved its operations from PSA Fairview Cove to PSA Atlantic Hub - the Southend Container Terminal. I am assuming this was done to prevent congestion at the Fairview Ramp. The TSMI ship Nolhan Ava, which only has a fixed. non-slewed stern ramp uses the shore side ramp at Pier 41. The original ramp at Pier 36 is no longer available as the camber area is being filled in for container pier expansion and the area is stacked high with containers.

The Pier 36 ramp is now blocked by a couple of jersey dividers.

As part of that terminal expansion, demolition began this week on the transit shed at Pier 33-34, starting with the westerly end at Pier 34.

A week or so ago the original container stuffing shed was also demolished.

 Steel for the new maintenance shed appears to be almost complete at Pier 29 and work is well advanced on the new inspection shed at Fairview Cove.


All the sheds in the 1974 photo below are gone or going:

Part of the shed at the left (Shed 34) was demolished many years ago, and the remainder (Shed 33 -34) is being demolished now.  Sheds at pier 36-37 and Pier 39-40 on the right) have also been gone for many years. The area between Pier A-1 (at the left) and B (at the right) comprising berths 33-37 is currently being filled in, using pyritic slate rock from building excavations in Halifax.

The time frame for the infill of that camber was reported to be five years, but that seems excessively long to me. If the current building boom in Halifax continues, there may well be more than that amount of excavated slate generated in the time frame, but I think demand for at least some of the space may outpace the generatiotn of fill. (As it stands now excavation contractors pay the Port to dump the pyritic slate which must be neutralized in water.)


* Correction: I meant to say 45 degrees to port or starboard for a total of 90 degrees, but I have since recieved information from a reader that the slew is 35 degrees to port or starboard,


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