01/03/2012 03:52 EST | Updated 03/04/2012 05:12 EST

Montreal Port Authority reports record cargo handled in 2011, optimism for 2012

MONTREAL - It was a record year in 2011 at Montreal's port and officials are hoping to build on that heading into 2012.

Sylvie Vachon, president and CEO of the Montreal Port Authority, said Tuesday that she is optimistic the port will fare significantly better in its final 2011 results when they are released in the spring.

She described 2011 on Tuesday as "the new record year for the Port of Montreal."

Preliminary results put the total volume of cargo handled during the year at about 28 million tonnes, a sharp increase following two tough years for the port.

Although the facility recorded a net loss of $8.6 million in 2010, Vachon predicted a brighter outlook.

"Our situation will be better financially this year," she said.

Vachon said the 2011 numbers represent a nine per cent increase over last year.

The main driver of the growth is a 30-per-cent hike in the handling of bulk liquid — up to nine milllion tonnes last year — with hydrocarbons making up the main reason for the spike.

In 2011, 12 million tonnes of containers arrived at the port — close to 1.2 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) — a four per cent increase over 2010.

Container traffic represented 43 per cent of the port's activities.

Six million tonnes of dry bulk cargo passed through the port, up four per cent compared to 2010.

However, the amount of passengers greeted at the port dipped by about six per cent last year. Three of the roughly 40 passenger ships that stop in Montreal had to cancel their trips because of high water levels after heavy rains.

Northern Europe — which includes the United Kingdom and France — accounted for almost half the port's activities from January to September, ahead of the Mediterranean area, which accounted for about 18 per cent.

Vachon also said the fight will continue against drug traffickers who use the port as a gateway into North America.

Her assurances came as Montreal La Presse, citing federal documents, reported Tuesday that 75 per cent of drugs that enter Canada come through Montreal's port.

Vachon said the port has 350 cameras that are in operation 24-hours-per-day and a two-metre fence that spans the entire facility.

"I believe that there is excellent collaboration between the RCMP and customs," she added.

The Port of Montreal is a leading container port served by seven of the 10 largest container shipping lines in the world.

The port says it supports 18,200 jobs and generates $1.5 billion in economic spin-offs annually.

The authority marked the beginning of the new year on Tuesday by honouring the first ocean-going vessel to enter the port without stopover and giving its captain the traditional Gold Headed Cane.

The 173rd awarding of the trophy went to the captain of the Seasprat, a German vessel which entered the port on Monday evening.