'Fed up' shipping line diverts cargo from Halifax over rail shutdown

A major container line is diverting cargo away from the Port of Halifax because of the ongoing disruption of rail service caused by Indigenous protests blockading rail lines in Canada. “Our Canadian and U.S. midwest operations have been shut down for almost two weeks now over this ridiculous situation,” Andy Abbott, CEO of Atlantic Container Lines, said in a statement to CBC News.

“Customers are finally fed up and we are routing cargo away from Halifax/CN to U.S. ports/U.S. railroads.” The company said its North Atlantic rotation includes New York, Baltimore and Virginia Beach, Va., and that’s where the Halifax cargo could be sent.

The rail blockades are a show of solidarity for the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, who oppose the construction of a 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline through northern British Columbia. CN Rail operates the only rail line serving Halifax. Last week, the railway stopped moving cargo in and out of the Maritimes because of blockades of the main line in Ontario.

‘Major problems’

Abbott said the shutdown of rail service has far-reaching impacts.

“We have virtually run out of containers in Ontario — as have many others carriers — so Canadian exporters now have major problems to move their cargo,” he said. “Canadian importers cannot get their parts, so Canadian manufacturing is being affected.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to talk Wednesday with Canadian premiers about the rail blockades. Abbott is unhappy with the Trudeau government’s response.

Rallies have been held across the country in support of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, who oppose the construction of a 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline through northern British Columbia.

This rally was held in Toronto on Feb.

8, 2020. (Keith Burgess/CBC)

“Meanwhile, Ottawa does absolutely nothing but give lip service while the country’s transportation system has been shut down over an issue totally unrelated to the railroads,” he said. “CN Rail, Halifax and Canada are the losers here. And you can quote me.” Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is also concerned about the situation.

“We can’t continue to allow the economy to be slowed down and we can do that through dialogue,” he said. “That’s great, but we need to make sure that the goods and services have the ability to move across this country.”

'Fed up' shipping line diverts cargo from Halifax over rail shutdownAtlantic Container Lines has decided to divert its cargo from the Port of Halifax to the U.S. because of the rail blockades in Canada. (CBC)

There have been concerns in Nova Scotia the rail shutdown would cost the Port of Halifax business.

“Many other ports on the Eastern Seaboard would love these shipping lines business and they would gobble it up as quick as they possibly could,” Kevin Piper, president of local 260 of the International Longshoremen’s Association, said on Tuesday.

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