As containers were being offloaded from the MV Qamutik through Nunavut’s first deep-sea port in Iqaluit, residents of the city gathered to celebrate the port’s official grand opening.
“We can offload a lot faster than when we used to be at the beach,” said Marc Andre, vice-president of sales and marketing with the NEAS Group, consisting of both Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping and Nunavik Eastern Arctic Shipping.
The price tag for the port was nearly $85 million, largely buoyed by federal money. Construction started in July 2018 under the Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Component – National and Regional Projects program.
Prior to the port’s opening on July 25, ships had to offload cargo through the sealift which would normally take waiting up to 12 hours a day for the tides and involve hauling a small barge back and forth between the shore and the ship. A process which stretched out to nearly three weeks for one such ship last shipping season, noted Andre.
“The infrastructure is very large, we have a lot more room, but most importantly it’s a safe environment for our workers, for the population. It’s very efficient. For us in the end, it’s a success so far,” he said.
While Nunavut’s other 24 communities still have to contend with the sealift, ships are expected to arrive earlier than in past years because of the faster offloading in Iqaluit.
“That means we’re a couple of days earlier in Kimmirut, in Pangnirtung, in Cape Dorset (Kinngait),” said Andre.
Independent Nunavut senator Dennis Patterson, who plans to retire at the end of this year, said he’s happy to see this project come to a conclusion.
“As I look back, we’ve been looking to improve our port facilities for over 40 years,” said Patterson, recounting numerous feasibility studies and different governments over the decades.
He specifically thanked a former prime minister Stephen Harper staffer Shaun Webb and former Liberal fisheries minister and former Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo for advocating for the port over the last eight years.
Iqaluit politicians hope the new deep-sea port will result in a reduced cost of living for residents.
“I hope that they will be reducing the prices for the items coming into Iqaluit,” said Iqaluit Mayor Solomon Awa.
“The length of time it takes a vessel to make an Arctic voyage from a southern point of origin to all of our communities takes weeks. Each day costs companies to operate the vessel,” noted Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Lightstone at a speech during the celebrations.
“This port will reduce offload times from days, to hours,” said Lightstone. “I challenge our sealift providers to pass on as much of those cost savings as possible.”