Baffinland expansion at Milne Inlet

In the north of Canada, Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation is exploring their iron ore mine at Milne Inlet. Although this is an extremely remote place on the globe with a very short ice-free period, mining goes on all year round. However, shipping can only take place in the two summer months, when bulkers come in thick and fast to load at the bulk jetty.

The mining company wanted to increase capacity but because of the remoteness and the long ice period, this expansion needed to be ready-made and delivered within the two ice-free months.


BigLift was awarded three shipments for this project. Due to the very short weather window for heavy lift shipping, all three allocated vessels were required to discharge their cargoes in direct succession.

With the bulk jetty unsuitable for heavy cargoes and no port facilities at all in place, a plan had to be devised to transfer the factory structures safely onto terra firma. First of all, at the end of a temporary road, the shallow waters near the shore were bridged with a barge, thereby reducing the working window even more. This barge was kept in place with spud poles. A major challenge arose, as the discharge from MC BigLift Barentsz had to take place over the stern. It was vital to “pin the ship down”, so that nothing would move or sway during the discharge operations. In the end, MC BigLift Barentsz was moored just before the barge, leaving a small gap, in order not to create a 300-metre-long “weathervane” that could break the barge off of its spud poles.


BigLift Barentsz was first to arrive and discharge. She came from Bremerhaven with four major constructions on deck. The Screening building of about 30*33*34 metres was the most impressive at 1,757 mt, but the Crusher building - at 23*27*33 metres and 1,403 mt - closely followed. Then there were the Car Dumper building and the Positioner Hall and a quantity of auxiliary pieces. The enormous modules were discharged by SPMTs that had been brought along from Bremerhaven.

As mentioned, Milne Inlet is a bay with no facilities for cargo transfer, let alone heavy lift. Thus, an elaborate mooring system was devised whereby the vessel’s anchors were assisted by mooring lines that were attached to an underwater mooring system. With MC BigLift Barentsz steadily moored, the modules were very carefully driven off the vessel’s deck – over a bridging construction to the barge – making it possible to closely monitor pressures and shifting weights from the vessel onto the barge and further onto land.


During these activities Happy Diamond arrived from Haiphong in Vietnam with part of the conveyor belt system. Molengracht followed hot on her heels with more conveyor belt parts, which she had loaded in Haiphong and Ho Chi Minh City. These vessels moored perpendicular to the barge, which entailed a completely different mooring system to that of BigLift Barentsz, but almost equally complex, due to the positioning and strength of the underwater mooring arrangement. To unload their cargoes, the two vessels used their own heavy lift cranes to land the conveyor systems onto the barge.


After a safe and successful discharge, BigLift Barentsz left the scene to sail the Arctic route West Passage to Asia, whereas Molengracht and Happy Diamond sailed south towards the Atlantic to pick up their next cargoes.