Belfast Harbour reports record trade levels in 2017

Belfast Harbour has recorded record trade levels, with 23.7 million tonnes passing through in 2017.
Gareth McKeown

BELFAST Harbour has recorded record trade levels, with 23.7 million tonnes passing through in 2017.

The port, which handles more than 70 per cent of the north's seaborne trade, has seen a 3 per cent increase in its trade volume on 2016 in spite of the low level of growth in the local economy.

Significant and strategic investments by the port and its customers as well as the relative weakness in sterling on exports are described as key reasons behind the positive figures.

Freight traffic on StenaLine’s Ro-Ro (Roll-on / Roll-off) services continues to grow, reaching a record 514,000 vehicles, 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 per cent to 2.2 million tonnes.

Aggregate exports from Belfast Harbour surpassed 1.5 million tonnes for the first time, up 16 per cent year-on-year and up 60 per cent in the past five years, highlighting the importance of the local quarrying sector to the export economy and the success of Conexpo, which exports products to road building projects across Europe. Imports of steel for the local heavy manufacturing and construction sectors increased by 14 per cent to a record 211,000 tonnes, while the terminal also handled 305,000 tonnes of wind farm components last year, the highest since it opened in 2013.

Within the leisure sector ferry passenger numbers jumped to over 1.5 million for the first time in 13 years, while the port welcomed a record 155,000 cruise visitors.

In reporting record trade handled, Belfast Harbour chairman, David Dobbin also highlighted some of the challenges facing the business in the years ahead.

“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."

Mr Dobbin expects a further reduction in power station coal volumes this year due to the potential closure of Kilroot power station in addition a fall in activity within the wind farm sector.

“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."

Belfast Harbour CEO, Joe O'Neill added:

“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."

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