Belfast Harbour, Northern Ireland’s largest seaport, has reported that tonnages fell by 4.4% last year in line with forecasts as the impact of the recession continued to be felt. There was, however, double digit growth in Dry Bulk trades associated with the agri-food sector and passenger numbers also increased by 3% to 1.33m, double the rate of growth throughout the UK port sector. In addition, the Harbour revealed that the recent severe weather has significantly boosted imports of grain, animal feeds and heating oil at the start of this year.
Although total tonnages through Belfast fell to 15.7m tonnes in 2009, the Harbour has significantly out-performed other Irish ports where tonnages have fallen by up to 18%. Commenting on the figures,
Roy Adair, Belfast Harbour’s CEO, said: “While nobody in the port industry likes to record a drop in traffic, there are significant positives in last year’s figures, particularly for trades associated with the agri-food sector.
“Over the past five years we have invested c.£30m in developing new facilities to support the sector and establish Belfast as the leading port on the island for agri-food businesses. That investment has paid dividends with fertiliser imports jumping by 14% to 201,000 tonnes and animal feed imports growing by 13% to over 1.7m tonnes.
“It’s also a clear indication of the resilience and value to the local economy of the agri-sector which has demonstrated, particularly in poultry and dairy related products, that quality Northern Ireland produce remains in high demand.”
While the overall Liquid Bulk trade declined slightly to 2.5m tonnes (down 1.4%), imports of diesel and unleaded petrol grew strongly by 10% and 4% respectively. This reflected greater demand in Northern Ireland petrol stations as rising fuel duties in the Republic of Ireland and a stronger Euro helped reverse the previous trend of Northern Ireland motorists filling-up across the border. The recession, however, continued to impact upon manufacturing and construction firms which led to lower container traffic (down 15.8% in tonnage terms) and a 49% fall in Break Bulk trades such as cement and steel to 304,000 tonnes.
Mr. Adair added: “The global downturn has obviously continued to take its toll, particularly on construction and manufacturing. That said, with the UK now officially out of recession there is evidence that the downward trend in these sectors is beginning to ease.
“We’ve also invested heavily in new facilities to enhance the quality and efficiency of our services which has helped drive demand. For example, although the ‘stay-cation’ phenomenon has undoubtedly boosted passenger numbers, this has been supported by the development of new terminals for both Stena Line and the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. “Recent infrastructure developments in other sectors have established Belfast as the leading Port on the island for a number of trades. That, plus vastly improved road access following the completion of the Westlink, should mean that Belfast Harbour is well positioned to build its market share across the island if the recovery gathers pace.”