Belfast Harbour has reported that trade handled by the Port during 2012 rose to a record 19.6m tonnes, up 11% on the previous year. The growth was driven primarily by an improved performance in the Bulk and Roll-On / Roll-Off (freight vehicle) sectors.
A record 4.6 million tonnes of Dry Bulk was handled, a jump of 16%. This included two million tonnes of grain and animal feeds, the highest tonnages ever recorded by the Harbour in this sector. An additional 600,000 tonnes of coal was also handled, reflecting recent investments by the Harbour in deep-water facilities which have enabled it to handle coal imports for AES's power station at Kilroot. Coal imports are now in excess of 1m tonnes for the first time since 1996.
Major investments by Belfast Harbour and Stena Line in new terminals on both sides of the Irish Sea, plus new superfast ferries, have significantly enhanced the competitiveness of the Belfast â€“ Cairnryan route.
This, coupled with a record performance on the Belfast â€“ Heysham route, helped drive the number of freight vehicles passing through the Port to 432,000, up 21% since 2011.
Commenting on the figures, Roy Adair, Belfast Harbour's CEO, commented:
'It's greatly encouraging for Belfast Harbour to once again be able to report such a positive set of trade figures. Growth across a number of sectors reaffirms Belfast's position as one of the most efficient ports in these islands and helps benchmark the Harbour's ongoing contribution to the Northern Ireland economy.
'Long-term investments by the Harbour and by key Port Users such as Stena Line have delivered significant benefits to the regional economy. It is particularly pleasing that the Roll-On / Roll-Off traffic has performed so strongly in what is one of the most competitive sectors in the port industry. '
Liquid Bulk total imports in 2012 remained steady compared with the previous year, with 2.1 million tonnes handled. Container traffic fell back by 5% to 123,000 boxes as consumer demand continued to soften. Construction related trades such as timber also continued to decline. Timber imports fell for the seventh year in a row, down by 9%.
On a more positive note, there was some indication of a recovery in activity in Northern Ireland's manufacturing base with steel imports rising by 11% to 128,000 tonnes, the highest level since 2008.
Passenger numbers using the Port's ferry services also increased by 11% to almost 1.4 million, reflecting the growing popularity of 'holidays at home' and major boosts to Northern Ireland's tourist sector with the opening of Titanic Belfast and the new Giant's Causeway visitor centre. The 'Titanic' effect was even more evident in the cruise sector with 45 ships and 75,000 visitors calling at Belfast in 2012 â€“ a rise of 40% since 2011.
Joe O'Neill, Belfast Harbour's Commercial Director added:
'While the overall trend in tonnages handled is positive, the Harbour is ever mindful that the wider economic outlook remains challenging. The record level of trade handled in 2012 was a direct consequence of a major investment programme; similar investments will be required for the long-term competitiveness of the Port.
'For example, the trend for ever larger vessels plus Belfast's growing popularity as a cruise destination â€“ bookings for 2013 are already up by over 25% - will require further investments in the Port's deep water facilities to accommodate demand.
'Belfast Harbour will also continue to pursue major marine projects such as the development of a £50m, 50-acre offshore wind farm terminal for DONG Energy.'