Trade through Belfast Harbour in 2017 increased to a record 23.7M tonnes, up by 600,000 tonnes (circa 3%) on the previous year.
Belfast Harbour, which handles more than 70% of Northern Ireland’s seaborne trade, said that despite the low level of growth in the local economy, significant and strategic investments by the Port and its customers were having a positive impact as was the relative weakness in sterling on exports.
Freight traffic on StenaLine’s RORO services continues to grow, reaching a record 514,000 vehicles (up 2%) with external demand for Northern Ireland’s agri-food produce a key driver for the increase. Linked to this, demand for animal feeds and grains rose, by 11% to 2.2M tonnes, assisted by improved farm incomes arising from higher milk prices as well as last year’s poor weather conditions. Container traffic also rose by 1.6% to over 125,000 units.
In reporting record Trade handled by Belfast Harbour for 2017, its Chairman, David Dobbin, also highlighted some of the challenges which the business is facing in 2018 and the years ahead.
This year will see Joe O’Neill, previously Commercial Director, take up the position of CEO succeeding his long standing predecessor Roy Adair.
In welcoming Joe to his new role, David Dobbin, Chairman of Belfast Harbour said:
“While Belfast Harbour has seen record levels of overall trade handled in 2017, the picture for individual trade categories is somewhat mixed. We are seeing growth in ferry and cruise ship activity, container traffic, agrifood, steel and aggregates, however, we are also seeing ongoing declines in power station coal and liquid fuel as the local natural gas network is extended. We would expect a further reduction in power station coal volumes in 2018 with the potential closure of Kilroot. Having seen a record year in shipments of wind farm components in 2017, we also anticipate activity will reduce with the completion of currently planned offshore wind farms and expected delays before new schemes are approved. ”
“The good news is that we anticipated these trends and have invested more than £250M in the last 10 years in infrastructure and facilities to support the growth sectors and futureproof the business. We are also in the process of making significant investments in ferry and container handling facilities, new cranes and materials handlers and in new logistics and storage facilities. These changes in our business environment are informing our strategic thinking for the coming years and offer us the opportunity to diversify our business, whilst continuing to support the regional economy.”
Joe O’Neill, Belfast Harbour’s CEO said: “Our investment strategy ensures that we provide the best facilities to our Port users and tenants and our 2017 trade results underpin that. Belfast Harbour’s success is driven by the innovative, dynamic, forward thinking companies which use the Port and are pushing their own businesses forward on a global stage. I look forward to continuing to work with all our customers and tenants in the coming years and to support their on-going success.”
Michael Robinson, Belfast Harbour’s new Commercial Director said:
“There has been much uncertainty about economic performance in the past 12-months, but an increase of 600,000 tonnes year-on-year in port throughput suggests that local businesses are more resilient than expected.
Ferry passenger numbers increased to over 1.5M for the first time in 13 years and the Port welcomed a record 155,000 cruise visitors.”
In addition, aggregate exports from Belfast Harbour surpassed 1.5M tonnes for the first time, up 16% year-on-year and up 60% in the past five years highlighting the importance of the local quarrying sector to the Northern Ireland export economy and the success of Conexpo which is exporting products to road building projects across Europe.
Imports of steel for the local heavy manufacturing and construction sectors rose by 14% to a record 211,000 tonnes. The development of a dedicated offshore wind terminal by the Harbour also continued to generate traffic. The terminal handled 305,000 tonnes of wind farm components last year, the highest since it opened in 2013.