The Northern Transportation Company Ltd. is cancelling its barge shipping route from Richmond, B.C., to western Arctic communities, due to the loss of a major mining contract.
The sealift company, which launched its West Coast route in 2009 from Richmond to communities along the Beaufort Sea coast, said it had a contract with Newmont Mining last year to ship construction material, heavy equipment and other cargo.
But Newmont is now shipping through an East Coast route instead, and NTCL does not have enough community cargo to warrant continuing the Pacific route, said president Bill Duffy.
“This year we didn’t believe we were going to see the volume that would have justified going the additional 1,200 miles [about 1,931 kilometres] coming around through the top,” Duffy told CBC News.
NTCL dispatched a 12,000-tonne ocean barge from Richmond once a season, moving north along the B.C. and Alaska coasts to communities in the Northwest Territories and western Nunavut.
40% cheaper than river route
Shipping cargo on the new route was 40 per cent cheaper than NTCL’s existing route on the Mackenzie River from Hay River, N.W.T.
NTCL said it cost less to send a single barge with a higher volume of cargo than to send many barges up and down the river.
But Brad Mapes, who owns a Hay River company that ships janitorial supplies, paint and flooring to Arctic communities, said only five per cent of his customers opted for the B.C. route.
Still, Mapes said the West Coast route was bad for his business, which ships its products via the Mackenzie River.
“They had NTCL sales staff that were telling people, ‘You know, you can make this much savings in freight in Richmond, but you could also probably buy your product cheaper in B.C.,'” Mapes said.
“We had to go and hustle our butt to make sure that we kept our customers that we got.”
At the same time, Mapes said the economy in Hay River “is so bad that we need NTCL in our community.”
Duffy said NTCL has lowered the rates it charges to ship from Hay River to Beaufort Sea communities this season, but the company had to lay off 15 employees to do so.