Maritime industry: “Claring” infrastructure needs in the era of green transition

The green shift in Quebec’s maritime industry will require “massive investments” from governments in port infrastructure, most of which are at the end of their useful life.

“Decarbonization can be very expensive,” says Claude Comtois, geographer and maritime transport specialist, in an interview.

Less than a year ago, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) set a goal of carbon neutrality by mid-century, in 2050. Many countries, including Canada and the United States, then adopted stricter rules in this area.

The geographer and maritime transport specialist, Claude Comtois.

“The idea is that we must decarbonize both port activities and ships,” explains Mr. Comtois.

In this context, several ports, including that of Montreal, have decided to begin the shift towards dockside electrification, which consists of connecting ships that dock to an electrical network to reduce the use of their engines.

But this is a costly situation, both for shipowners and port authorities. “It’s $1 million for each boat, and $25 million to electrify a dock. There are therefore shipping companies which prefer to use other types of fuel to reduce their emissions, at lower cost,” continues the geographer.

Big changes

In any case, the green shift represents a “big challenge” for port infrastructure, adds the president and CEO of the Saint-Laurent Economic Development Corporation (SODES), Mathieu St-Pierre.

Photo Didier Debusschere

“Right now the ecosystem is based around diesel. “The storage infrastructures are designed for that, so a change in fuel or energy brings additional challenges,” he explains, citing financing, adapted infrastructure, and an update of training programs for Workforce.


To add to the difficulty, the need to invest in the green transition occurs at the very moment when the majority of port infrastructure in Quebec has reached the end of its useful life.

“The needs on this side are major and glaring,” says Mr. St-Pierre, who believes that “massive investments” from Quebec and Ottawa will be necessary.

However, even if maritime transport is “the economic lifeline of Quebec and Canada”, the fact remains that the State “does not alone have the means to pay for everything that must be done”, observes Claude Comtois.

“Generally, infrastructure is assumed by the public, and the private sector pays for the ‘superstructures’, that is to say everything that is put on top, such as forklifts, railway tracks, etc.”

Maritime industry: Artificial intelligence is not a panacea, warns expert

The maritime industry believes that the appearance of artificial intelligence in the sector will require new investments in the coming years. But we should not expect this technology to solve all the problems in the field, warns a specialist.

“It is certain that the development of artificial intelligence will require investments in financial terms, in technological terms and in terms of skills development,” breathes in an interview the president and CEO of the Saint-Pierre economic development company. Laurent (SODES), Mathieu St-Pierre.

In fact, Quebec has already started to loosen the purse strings in this area. Last year, the Legault government extended $4.5 million for a project to optimize container handling by Société Terminalaux Montréal Gateway.

cargo block maritime transport commerce boat

Photo Agence QMI, JOEL LEMAY

“Artificial intelligence is just beginning to enter this industry,” comments geographer Claude Comtois.

Certain tools in development will make it possible to predict with more precision the arrival time of ships in ports, and to improve operations at sea. “Essentially, it will be used to make recommendations to make the best possible decisions, from point of view of safety, efficiency, and the environment,” summarizes Jean-François Audy, co-holder of the Research Chair on the factory-laboratory in manufacturing intelligence at UQTR.

“There is a big project in Quebec, the intelligent economic corridor, which includes shipowners, transporters and ports,” adds Loubna Benabbou, professor at UQAR.

However, Claude Comtois does not expect these technologies to immediately lead to major upheavals. “The real problem when ships arrive is that they have to be coordinated with the arrival of trains or trucks,” he explains. And if there is a delay at any given moment, there is a cascade effect, artificial intelligence or not.

The expert points out, however, that artificial intelligence could be used by port authorities to create “digital twins” of their facilities, to evaluate in advance the best options if an emergency occurs, such as a fire or an accident.

Volumes of merchandise which are maintained

The volumes of goods traveling on the St. Lawrence are maintained despite the ups and downs of the economy.

“In terms of volume, the tonnage has always been around 150-155 million tonnes in recent years,” explains Mathieu St-Pierre, president and CEO of the Société de développement économique du Saint-Laurent (SODES).

“But we still see that it is more difficult for certain goods, like grain, more subject to disruptions due to the weather,” he immediately adds.

The transport of iron ore has been increasing since the pandemic, while container transport remains around the 10% mark. “This year, we were just below, at 9%,” remarks Mr. St-Pierre, recalling that a significant portion of containers pass through the Port of Montreal.

“We see that the latest upheavals in the logistics chain, such as the rail blockade and the longshoremen’s strike at the port of Montreal, have had an effect, but containers represent a sector on the rise internationally,” he continues.

“This is why we welcome the Contrecœur project, which will make it possible to accommodate more.”

Commercial ships on the river

Canadian flags: 2954 (34.2%)

Foreign flags: 5682 (65.8%)

Total: 8636 ship movements

153 million tonnes

This is the total weight of goods that traveled on the St. Lawrence Seaway in 2023.

Grain: 15 million tons

Ore: 70 million tonnes

Oil: 27 million tonnes

9% of these goods are transported by container.



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