Cargo volumes through Belfast Harbour have surpassed 24m tonnes for the first time since records began. Trade increased by over 900,000 tonnes during 2018 to 24.6m tonnes, up 3.8% on the previous year.
Growth was led by a strong increase in freight vehicle carryings on Stena Line’s services to Great Britain, rising by 3% to a record 532,000 freight vehicles and for the second consecutive year more than 1.5m passengers passed through the Port. Stena Line’s trading performance in 2018 was enhanced as a consequence of its introduction of a third larger vessel in 2018 to the Belfast – Liverpool route and market share gains on the Belfast – Cairnryan route.
Stena Line has also commissioned eight new ‘E-Flexer’ RoPax vessels, currently under construction in China, and during 2018 the Company confirmed that two of these vessels will operate on the Belfast - Liverpool route from 2020 and 2021 respectively reflecting Stena Line’s continued commitment to Belfast and the NI market. The ‘E-Flexer’ ships will be the most sustainable ships on the Irish Sea with Scandinavian inspired facilities and more efficient loading and unloading capabilities for freight customers.
Imports and exports of industrial coal by local company LCC, grew by more than 37% to more than 1mT as it scaled up production at its a high-tech coal processing plant. Industrial coal is imported to Belfast for processing and adding value at the facility and is subsequently exported around the world to countries including Australia, Saudi Arabia and Russia for use in the steel and alloy industries.
Following last year’s cold spring and the dry summer, the animal grains and feeds sector also performed very well with tonnages rising to 2.35m tonnes (up 7.5%) which is a record for the Port.
Joe O’Neill, CEO, Belfast Harbour, said:
“2018 was a strong year of growth with virtually every trade sector reporting an increase in traffic and with many reaching record levels.
“Growth has been supported by Belfast Harbour’s long-term investment programme to improve its competitiveness and efficiency. During 2018, for instance, we invested in the purchase of the largest hydraulic crane in any UK or Irish port, and took significant investment decisions to improve and increase ferry and container handling capacity and will continue to work with our partners to utilise new technology to make Belfast both the greenest and most digitally enhanced regional port in the world.
“We were delighted with Stena Line’s decision to increase capacity on the Belfast – Liverpool route during 2018 and are working in partnership with them to accommodate the new ‘E-Flexer’ ships next year through substantial investment in our port facilities
LoLo container traffic increased by 1.5% to almost 128k containers which is the highest volume since 2011 representing a degree of resilience amongst consumers.”
Michael Robinson, Belfast Harbour’s Commercial Director, added:
“This year’s trade performance is very positive with a number of record performances across our trade sectors, but we have some challenges ahead not least following the completion of Orsted’s portfolio of Irish Sea windfarm projects which has been a source of very significant tonnage and revenue for the port in recent years. However, we were pleased to note the Crown Estate announcement in late 2018 of a new round of seabed leasing which could see the return of this trade in the early 2020s.
We also recognise the long term expected declines ahead in some of our more traditional trade sectors particularly in the importation of fossil fuels as the economy transitions to renewable energy sources and the general consumer trend away from consumption in favour of experience purchases. Accordingly we are making investments in facilities for our longer term sustainable trade sectors and repositioning our business to avail of the opportunities in the changing economy.
During 2018 we commenced our £40m investment in upgrading our container terminal to both modernise and increase handling capacity with works underway to deploy some of the most modern container handling equipment anywhere in the world.
2018 was also another record year for our cruise business with 115 cruise ship visits and 185,000 visitors and it is very pleasing to look forward to an even busier summer ahead of us in 2019 when we will welcome around 285k cruise visitors on board 151 cruise ships to Belfast.”