By Captain Peter Adams, CEO of Nunatsiavut Marine
In recent weeks, I have seen comments on social media regarding how much it costs to ship items from community to community on the coast. I also read comments blaming Nunatsiavut Marine Inc. for the rates that are charged amongst other concerns. I would like to take the opportunity to explain how the freight service works on the North Coast of Labrador.
There are presently 3 contracts in place with the Department of Transportation and Works, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, for the North Coast marine service. The Administration of Shore-based Operations, Management of the MV Northern Ranger, and Provision of a freight vessel providing service from Lewisporte and Goose Bay to the North Coast of Labrador. Nunatsiavut Marine Inc. (NMI) only holds the first 2 of those contracts. The freight vessel, the MV Astron, is owned and operated by Labrador Marine Inc.
What I wish to discuss today is the first contract – the Administration of Shore-based Operations for the Labrador Marine Service. NMI operates the two main terminals – Lewisporte and Goose Bay, as well as operating the smaller terminals in each community on the coast. NMI provides the equipment and employees, however, the Dept. of Transportation and Works owns the infrastructure, such as the docks and the storage sheds. NMI receives a day rate for operating all of these terminals. The revenue generated by shipping freight belongs to the Dept. of Transportation and Works and NMI pays all of those monies back to the Department. The monies generated are used to offset the cost of the service to the coast. The freight rates are determined by the Dept. of Transportation and Works and NMI has no influence on those rates other than to charge them.
The service to the coast of Labrador is approximately 90% subsidized by the province, so the rates paid by our customers are very small compared to what it actually costs to ship items. As an example, if it costs a customer $200 to ship a cord of wood from Postville to Nain, it cost the province about $2000 to actually ship that cord of wood. Paying roughly 10% is actually a pretty good deal.
As the operator, Nunatsiavut Marine Inc. has an obligation to our client, the Department of Transportation and Works, to administer their policies on their behalf. Our obligation to our customer is to receive your freight, keep it secure, and deliver it to the correct community to be picked up by the intended recipient. The rates people pay and the terms and conditions of carriage found on the back of the Bill of Lading are all determined by the provincial government. The money NMI collects for shipping freight all gets paid to the provincial government so there is no advantage to us to charge more or less than what the province requires us to charge. We do have an obligation to collect the money however.
Freight delivery is managed on a first come, first served basis. When people complain that construction supplies or equipment are given preference over personal items, that is simply not true. The cargo offering is determined by what shows up at our terminals and the order it shows up. The only exception to this is perishable food items which receive priority over all other items. If construction equipment goes on the vessel before a personal item, it is because that equipment arrived at the terminal before the personal item did.
The MV Astron does not operate on a fixed schedule, but operates a “load and go” service. The port order followed by the MV Astron is determined by the cargo offering. If there are no items in a community to be shipped, it is possible the Astron will by-pass a community on the way North or South depending on whether items need to be delivered to that community or not. That is why it is important that if a resident or a business needs to ship from one community to another, they let the wharfinger in that community know in advance so that information can be shared with the MV Aston so the ship will stop in that community. If NMI is not aware there is freight in a community to be shipped, the Astron may not stop at that community. Most personal or small items will be shipped on the MV Northern Ranger from community to community so what I am speaking about isn’t normally an issue. That said, if you are shipping a larger item, such as a vehicle, boat, or a container that needs to travel on the MV Astron, you need to advise NMI and/or the wharfinger in your community and fill out a Bill of Lading to ensure that we stop to get your freight and deliver it to the appropriate community.
Nunatsiavut Marine Inc. cares about our customers and we endeavour to provide the highest level of service we can recognizing the limitations of the infrastructure available and the policies we must adhere to. We understand sometimes there are issues, but we are committed to solving those issues and we are continuously looking at ways to improve the service we provide to our customers. We appreciate your feedback. The best way to provide us your feedback is to contact our customer service line, 1-855-896-2262, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow the feedback link on our website, www.labradorferry.ca.