zoom Upward spiralling headhaul freight rates earlier this year have lured most carriers to place a significant amount of additional tonnage into Asia-East Central North America (ECNA) trade via new services, according to shipping consultancy firm Drewry.Asian boxes bound for ECNA (including Canada and Mexico) in January and February climbed year-on-year by 15% in both months. Looking specifically at boxes landed at the US ports over the whole of the first quarter, the East Coast terminals saw gains of 23% while Gulf Coast discharges rose by 53%. This compares to a decline of 6% of Asian goods arriving along the US western seaboard and an overall growth of US imports from the Far East registering a gentle 3%, Drewry said.During the first quarter, it was Houston that witnessed the most explosive growth in Transpacific imports – up by 62% year-on-year – but throughputs at the premier Gulf Coast port are far lower than some of the USEC ports such as Savannah and Norfolk where Asian imports advanced by 40% and 28% respectively. The New York/New Jersey complex, which draws the highest throughput of Far Eastern imports, enjoyed a growth factor of 19%.Instead of the 19 connections between Asia and ECNA there will be 25 Capacity provided in the first quarter of this year, averaging some 380,000 teu per month, represented a slight drop when compared to last quarter of 2014, and was only 3.2% above what was being offered in the trade a year earlier.Drewry predicts that this relative calm in slot supply is about to end because by the start of June six additional services will have been introduced. Instead of the 19 connections offered in the first quarter between Asia and ECNA there will be 25, and even after applying a generous allowance for out-of-scope cargoes, the monthly slot count is reckoned to reach some 475,000 teu, equating to approximately 18% greater supply compared to the third quarter peak season last year.Although a Suez routing for the coverage of the Asia-ECNA trade has become increasingly popular in the last few years (8 out of the previous 19 connections sailed via Suez), only one of the six new services that are being introduced will not transit the Panama Canal. According to Drewry, that might suggest that the carriers have already started jockeying for position in preparation for when the widened Panama Canal opens next year.The odd man out is Zim’s Seven Star Express which, sailing via Suez, will concentrate on the South China and the South East Asia markets, deploying ten ships averaging almost 6,000 teu. This permanent fixture follows three earlier ad hoc sailings that the Israeli carrier inserted to take advantage of the climbing freight rates during the flight of cargo away from the congested USWC ports. All three sailings, utilising 10,000 teu units, were reported to have been full.CMA CGM is involved in setting up two new services: one is within the newly formed Ocean Three alliance while the other – a Transpacific/Transatlantic pendulum product – will be operated with Hamburg Sud.“And if any further evidence is needed to demonstrate that modern-day global alliances are flexibly structured to allow individual members to “do their own thing” then Maersk’s decision to launch its TP10 service without any involvement of its 2M partner MSC bears testament to that,” Drewry said.Among the global carrier pack, MSC remains the only line that has so far resisted the temptation to bolster supply. First into the fray out of the six new loops was the new CKYHE alliance service which started out from Ningbo on 27 March with 9 vessels averaging 4,380 teu and which has been scheduled to make just two calls at ECNA ports – Savannah and Charleston.The 12-month rolling average eastbound demand growth rate still runs to double digits and, although West Coast port operations are returning to normal, the proportion of US cargo routing via the eastern and Gulf seaboards is expected to steadily rise. Nevertheless, an 18% injection of capacity is undoubtedly putting rates under pressure. Just before Chinese New Year, eastbound spot rates had risen to almost $5,000 per 40ft but by the end of April they had fallen back to $3,700. Drewry said that this was an abnormally large correction for the Transpacific trade by any standards and open market rates are now barely $400 higher than where they stood a year ago.“Earlier in the year the Transpacific Stabilisation Agreement carriers set a minimum rate guideline of $3,800 for 1 May BCO service contract renewals, translating to an average hike of $1,000. The recent drift in spot rates means that that goal is now unachievable and that status quo or only modest rate uplift is a more likely outcome,” Drewry concludes.
CALGARY — Alberta’s energy regulator has approved an oilsands giant’s plans to manage its vast tailings ponds despite ongoing concerns about their reliability.“(Opponents) raised concerns with the aquatic closure outcome and uncertainties with the proposed technology,” Alberta Energy Regulator said in its decision on Suncor Energy’s (TSX:SU) Millennium mine. “The (regulator) shares those concerns.”While the regulator has added a series of reporting and monitoring requirements, Wednesday’s decision approves substantially the same plan it turned down last spring.The plan still relies on so-called end-pit lakes, in which treated tailings are pumped to the bottom of an engineered basin and capped with fresh water. The technology has often been used for other mines but never for oilsands tailings.It also proposes a reclamation timeline which will require some sort of monitoring well into the next century.“Those core issues were not addressed and they’ve kind of just evaporated now,” said Jodi McNeill of the Pembina Institute, a clean energy think-tank.The regulator said in its ruling that the Suncor decision is not to be considered a precedent. But plans from seven other projects from six producers are being reviewed and McNeill said most of them have the same problems as Suncor.“It ultimately is (a precedent),” she said.The Millennium tailings pond holds more than 300 billion litres of water contaminated with toxins including bitumen, naphthenic acids, cyanide and heavy metals.The approval sets a number of reporting requirements to ensure Suncor meets a series of deadlines.Suncor has until 2024 to clean up all 314 billion litres of tailings produced before 2015.By that time, the mine will have produced another 281 billion litres of tailings. That total must decline to 147 billion litres by 2033, when the mine is scheduled to close.All tailings must be gone by 2043, with ongoing monitoring to ensure the site remains stable and develops a healthy ecosystem.“There are risks that Suncor will not achieve this profile,” the regulator said. “The ability of Suncor to achieve the profile is dependent on successfully implementing its (tailings management plan).”In addition to its concerns over end-pit lakes, the regulator also had questions about what Suncor means by ready-to-reclaim, a crucial standard in measuring reclamation thresholds.“The criteria proposed by Suncor may or may not adequately track the performance of a tailings deposit as expected,” the decision said. “Improvements to (ready-to-reclaim) criteria will likely be required.”Time is running out for Suncor to prove its plan will work, said the regulator.“With Suncor’s Oil Sands Base Plant approaching end-of-mine life, the (regulator) is concerned with the length of time remaining to resolve Suncor’s site-specific issues.”Suncor spokeswoman Sneh Seetal said the company is aware the site will require decades of monitoring.“Absolutely, this will be a long-term monitoring program. Our goal is to develop a self-sustaining, biodiverse, boreal forest ecosystem.”In July 2016, the regulator released a directive requiring all producers to outline how they will deal with the extensive toxic ponds that altogether cover more than 220 square kilometres and contain almost 1.2 trillion litres of contaminated water.Suncor’s initial response was rejected. The regulator agreed to reconsider it after the company said it hadn’t been able to describe some of the technology it planned to use because it had yet to be fully patented.As well, regulator spokesman Jordan Fitzgerald said a meeting in July with Suncor and groups concerned about the ponds clarified issues.“It gave us an opportunity to understand some more information in terms of what Suncor was proposing and some of the concerns that the parties had raised,” he said.— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow him on Twitter at @row1960.
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