Maritime World Logistics thrives on breakbulk and project cargo

By Tom Peters

Maritime World Logistics, Inc. (MWL) is “just one link in the supply chain,” says Managing Director Serge DiPenta, and for more than 20 years, the Halifax-based company has grown to be a vital link in that chain, specifically in the breakbulk and project cargo business. With an office on the Bedford Highway overlooking the Fairview Cove cargo terminal in the Port of Halifax, MWL was born out of a necessity, to fill a void at the port to handle these types of cargoes. MWL President Mike DiPenta, who had been Manager Ports Halifax for CN Rail, dealt with project cargo as part of his responsibilities, said his son, Serge. “That was sort of his passion,” he added. Following his retirement from CN in 1999, however, Mike’s absence created a gap in the railway’s breakbulk and project cargo service.

“One of his client’s asked him at the time, if you are not getting back into breakbulk, and CN is not really that interested, who is going to carry the ball,” said Serge, who joined the company in 2010 and has been managing if for the past three years. “So Mike started Maritime World,” he said.

The business got its start in Mike’s home. It has slowly grown and has evolved into a six-person office operation plus four to six contractors, some lifelong railroaders, “who are complimentary to what we do,” said Serge. Their job is to shadow or ‘babysit’ cargo from rail origin to its final destination, especially high profile, sensitive cargo. “They will follow the train, by vehicle, and stop at various railway stations to inspect cargo, present clearance files and do whatever is necessary to ensure the cargo arrives at its destination safely and efficiently. It’s all part of the company’s service package”, said Serge. These “cargo shadowers” were part of a company called, Transcontinental Transportation Services, which was acquired by MWL a number of years ago.

“MWL can work out of any port in North America,” said Serge but Halifax lends itself exceptionally well to handling dimensional cargo with ACL (Atlantic Container Line) and WWL (Wallenius Wilhelmsen Line) offering world class ro-ro capability and several on dock marginal tracks (running along the edge of the pier) to allow vessels with their own cranes to discharge cargo directly onto rail cars. In addition, CN’s clearances from the tracks in Halifax are wider than at any other port on the East Coast of North America. Most of the breakbulk and project cargoes are transferred to rail, due to weight and size considerations, but trucks are employed when they turn out to be more suitable. “We have very good trucking partners” and if some cargo needs to be moved by truck “then that is what we will do,” he added.

With rail being the principal mode of transportation for MWL’s business, Serge has high praise for CN Rail which is the only rail line serving the port of Halifax. Of all the railways they deal with “CN’s model for handling dimensional is one of the best in North America, in our experience. We have a good relationship with them,” he said. Serge added that project cargo only makes up a small portion of CN’s overall freight car business “so we do our best to be in touch with people in the local (CN) operation as well as CN marketing and customer service, and that makes a big difference.”

A considerable amount of the project cargo that moves over Halifax is associated with the energy sector and is headed for the “oil patch” mainly in Western Canada. As the energy sector moves to “greener” types of energy, there will still be a need for large power generation equipment, but different types.

Like any business, moving large, oversized cargo has its challenges which are not just limited to cargo dimensions. One issue, for example, says Serge, is getting all the detailed information on the cargo before it arrives, in order to properly handle and process it when it arrives.

“Getting complete information is always paramount. Once we have everything, we have to make sure there are no last-minute surprises. Mike likes to use the phrase, “the big issues are easy to spot,” suggesting it’s not the big issues that cause the problem, the “devil is truly in the details,” Serge says.

In addition to the commitment to its clients, MWL also has a commitment to the local community and a number of local organizations. MWL is an annual gold sponsor for the Halifax Employers Association golf tournament, Drive For Hope, which raises money for Hope Cottage, a charitable organization which feeds those in the community most in need. MWL has also been a major contributor to the Mission to Seafarers for the past six years; has been a banner sponsor for a local high school hockey team (Lockview High School); a regular sponsor of Halifax Port Days; and a major supporter of the Hodgkin lymphoma society and Dartmouth General Hospital.