Belfast Harbour recovers to post record year in 2021

The 25.6 million tonnes that passed through Belfast Harbour in 2021 was five per cent up on its previous record year.

THE volume of cargo passing through Belfast Harbour reached a record 25.6 million tonnes in 2021.

The trust port reported a strong set of financial results for last year, with turnover, profits and trade volumes bouncing back from 2020 when Covid-19 hit its business.

Turnover was up 17 per cent year-on-year to £73.3 million, with pre-tax profits more than doubling to £39.8m.

Cargo bounced back by nine per cent, but even with the recovery from Covid, Belfast Harbour Commissioners said the 25.6 million tonnes of cargo from 2021 was five per cent higher than its previous record year of 2019.

The volume of containers rose 15 per cent to 132,000 units, the highest since 2008, while roll-on-roll-off freight was up 12 per cent to almost 600,000 freight units.

Harbour chief executive Joe O’Neill said the port benefitted from the diversion of freight traffic from Dublin, particularly with the grace periods associated with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“I think ourselves and the other ports are all on record as saying during 2021 there was an uplift."

But he said that the scale of the diversion was difficult to quantify.

Dublin had been widely used among some northern exporters to move goods to Britain, but new post-Brexit checks means those exporters have largely alternated to Belfast.

Mr O’Neill said as an infrastructure provider Belfast Harbour isn’t directly involved in shipping, haulage or regulatory checks.

GB to NI trade represents around 70 per cent of Belfast Harbour cargo trade, including 100 per cent of freight ferry traffic

Harbour Commissioners have flagged up the potential removal of grace periods as a risk factor to its future business.

Passenger numbers also bounced significantly, with the staycation market contributing to a 69 per cent increase to almost 1.5 million people.

Joe O’Neill said while the port has sustained its performance to date in early 2022, particularly with the suspension of P&O services at Larne in March, he said there are signs of rising prices hitting demand.

Volumes of bulk commodities such as feedstuff and fertilisers are now beginning to fall in response to price hikes.

Belfast Harbour’s chair, Dr Theresa Donaldson said: “Throughout the challenges of the pandemic, trade has continued to flow, and these results demonstrate the continued resilience of Belfast Harbour and its customers and tenants, as together we adapt and respond to external challenges and operating changes.

“This strong performance provides a firm economic base and positive outlook for 2022, but we remain mindful of the continuing risks posed by the pandemic and of the global energy and supply chain challenges and related inflationary environment.”

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