DUKE POINT — Seaspan Ferries officially opened its new $44-million ferry freight terminal on Monday as the company responds to rising demand on Vancouver Island.
“There is just steady growth in the amount of traffic to and from Vancouver Island,” Frank Butzelaar, CEO of Seaspan ULC, said at Nanaimo’s Duke Point.
Business has been growing annually by between two and two-and-a-half per cent, he said.
That business consists of trailers filled with every kind of consumer good coming to the Island. The food you buy and the computers you work on could well have arrived on a trailer riding on a Seaspan ferry.
Seaspan ferries make a total of 11 round trips per day, with six of those at Duke Point and the remainder at Seaspan’s terminal at Swartz Bay. The crossing takes four hours, and another two hours is spent loading and unloading trailers, which ride by themselves on a ferry.
A special truck connects to a trailer, hauling it off the ferry for its customers to pick up. It takes just 20 seconds to hook up a trailer.
The company moves more than 500 trailers per day and 20,000 automobiles per year, Butzelaar said.
Seaspan Ferries Corp. bought Van Isle Barge Co. in 2011 at the location of its new terminal, promising customers a $250-million investment in terminals and new vessels to replace an aging fleet, Butzelaar said.
Since then, two new 488-feet ferries, fuelled by liquefied natural gas, have come into service, each capable of carrying about 50 trailers that are 53 feet long.
Another two or three similar ferries will be arriving, likely in 2019, he said.
More than half the consumer goods delivered to Vancouver Island arrive via a Seaspan ferry, the company said. B.C. Ferries also brings goods to the Island.
The new terminal, with two state-of-the-art hydraulic ramps, replaces an older terminal used by Seaspan, located just south of Nanaimo’s downtown.
“The 18-acre, 360-trailer facility will greatly improve both flexibility and efficiency for our operations and the operations of our customers,” Butzelaar said.
Steve Roth, president of Seaspan Ferries Corp., said: “The service levels are going to improve because our capacity has increased.”
Chris Good, representing the Snuneymuxw First Nation, welcomed the new terminal, saying, “We see this as an opportunity for a few jobs. We are building a relationship.”
Construction of the new terminal took 19 months.
Seaspan is the North Vancouver-based parent of a group of companies that include shipyards, tugs, barges and ship-docking services. It has about 2,800 employees. Seaspan is part of the Washington Group of Companies.
The company’s shipyards are building non-combat vessels for the federal government in North Vancouver.
The move to Duke Point by Seaspan has opened the door for negotiations with the City of Nanaimo which wants to take over some of the company’s railway right-of-way land at the former trailer terminal.
An open house is set for June 21 to present concepts for development, said Bill Corsan, Nanaimo’s manager of real estate.
The city has sent a memorandum of understanding to Seaspan for vetting, he said.
If the parties agree, the city’s holdings on that site would increase to approximately 11 acres of land and five acres of water lot, Corsan said.
Southern Railway, also owned by the Washington Group, is planning to continue using the railyard site. It mainly carries products for the pulp and paper industry.