Bulk cargoes handled by the Port increased by 12% during the year, with particularly strong increases recorded by agri-food related trades. For the first time ever grain and animal feed tonnages reached the two million tonne mark, reaffirming Belfast Harbour’s position as the island’s leading Port in the sector.
Stone exports jumped by 47% reflecting strong road repair programmes in GB and the development of new markets in continental Europe, while severe winter weather helped push salt tonnages up by 238% to a record 98,000 tonnes. Improved freight vehicle traffic (up 1.6%) and container tonnages (up 4.1%) also suggested that confidence in the local manufacturing and consumer sectors was recovering.
Commenting on the figures, Belfast Harbour’s Chairman, Len O’Hagan, said:
“While issues remain over the strength of the economic recovery – particularly in the Republic of Ireland which accounts for 20% of Belfast Harbour’s trade – there are good reasons to be optimistic about future trends.
“With the agri-food and associated sectors continuing to expand, due in part to the recent development of new Harbour facilities costing £30m, it also appears that manufacturing activity in Northern Ireland is beginning to show signs of increased activity and tentative recovery.
“Continued investment in new facilities has enabled the Harbour to diversify into new sectors and provide our existing customers with the most modern Port on the island. In similar vein, the Harbour is continuing to consider investments in other sectors with a view to stimulating wider economic activity, further diversifying its revenue streams and catering for long-term growth in the wider economy.”
Operational changes on Irish Sea routes are also anticipated to benefit Belfast Harbour during 2011. Stena Line’s plan to open a new Scottish terminal at Loch Ryan later this year is expected to further boost freight vehicle activity through Belfast while vessel sharing by container line operators should help build upon the increased numbers of containers handled in 2010.
The Harbour’s Commercial Director, Joe O’Neill, added:
“It is a welcome sign that tonnages through the Port rose last year by a healthy 5.4%. We will continue to seek to support our customers by developing facilities and increasing trade through the Port, although we recognise that challenges persist in some sectors. Our expectation, however, remains that new marine facilities will be required to cater for long-term growth in Northern Ireland’s economy.”
Although 2010’s trade figures were generally positive, some sectors, particularly construction, continued to experience difficulties. Timber products fell by 32% to 82,000 tonnes, the lowest since 1985 while cement imports fell to 48,000, an almost ten-fold fall since their 2001 peak.
Passenger numbers remained static at 1.3m (down less than 1%) while 35 cruise ships called at Belfast carrying 62,000 passengers and crew.