A new entrant has launched into the Mackenzie River marine shipping business.
It’s Island Tug and Barge Ltd. (ITB) of British Columbia, which held its official opening in Hay River on Sept. 10.
“We haven’t built our 17-floor office tower, yet,” said Niels Gram, Island Tug and Barge’s vice president of business development, gesturing to the shiny new shipping containers scattered across an Old Town riverside lot between Bassett Petroleum and the old Zoo tavern. “The main benefit to the North is that we can help contribute to a competitive market, and that’s not something we’ve really seen here in the past.”
Island Tug and Barge has commissioned four new double-hulled barges for its new Mackenzie River operations to be launched from Hay River. While the Mackenzie is one of the few exceptions to a rule – to be implemented by 2015 – that requires all barges to have double hulls, the company believes that, not only is it possible to use such vessels on the historic waterway, but doing so will raise the bar for other companies, as well.
“We believe this will be the standard now. We are going to raise it,” said Capt. Terry Camsell, manager of Arctic development for Island Tug and Barge. “The Mackenzie is a dangerous river and it’s a prime place to use double-hulls.”
According to Camsell, the river was granted an exemption from almost worldwide regulations as a result of extensive industry lobbying. He said that, although spills on the Mackenzie have been rare, they do happen and should be prevented if at all possible.
“You don’t want to depend on the double-hull,” he told The Hub. “It’s a last contingency, but on the remote chance that something does go wrong, you want it there.”
Island Tug and Barge has been operating on the West Coast out of Vancouver for years, and broke into the Arctic market in 2005.
Camsell said the company specializes in shipping fuel, which requires a certain degree of industry vetting and regulation by oil companies.
“It’s a really costly and involved process for the shipping company to get vetted,” he said. “But we’ve gone through it and the Mackenzie really does fit the profile for that high-end specialty work.”
However lofty the company’s ambitions, Camsell proclaimed himself the safeguard for local interests at the opening on Sept. 10.
“ITB believes the local community should benefit from the work we do in that community,” he said. “I’m going to make sure we stay on track for that.”
Representatives from both the municipal and territorial governments were on hand to welcome Island Tug and Barge to the shores of the Hay River, as were drummers from K’atlodeeche First Nation.
“We have a proud and long history of marine transportation in Hay River and to see Island Tug and Barge coming to the North and investing in it is exciting,” said Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen. “The strength of Hay River is that we’re not a one-industry town. The diversity here is extraordinary. And optimism is contagious, is it not?”
Coun. Keith Dohey, speaking on behalf of the Town of Hay River, acknowledged the community’s reputation as the hub of the North has seen some decline, but said he wanted to see transportation industries revived, beginning with the increased opportunities brought about by a new company setting up shop in town.
“With a new barging company located on our shores, we are re-establishing ourselves for growth as a community ready for the development opportunities that are beginning to show themselves throughout the NWT,” Dohey said. “As a community, we welcome these new opportunities and investments, and will strive to ensure that our message is clear – we are open for business and support the growth of our territory.”
— Sarah Ladik