New direct ferry routes led to a near fivefold increase in European freight volumes passing through Rosslare Europort as Irish traders chose to bypass Britain and post-Brexit border checks.
Figures released by the port show that, in the first year since Brexit, more Irish importers and exporters trading with mainland Europe chose direct ferries over the once-favoured "landbridge" route through Britain to avoid the new checks between the EU and the UK.
The southeastern port, the closest Irish port to continental Europe, has been among the biggest beneficiaries of Britain's exit from the European Union.
Rosslare Europort recorded its highest ever level of activity as traders sought out hassle-free transit in and out of the country. The port has added 24 direct ferry routes since 2020, including the DFDS service that connected Rosslare with the French port of Dunkirk for the first time.
Last year 119,927 lorry freight units passed through the Co Wexford port on 30 direct ferry services with Europe – an increase of 94,477 units or 371 per cent on the previous year's figure.
Freight volumes on 56 ferry services a week with British ports fell by 34 per cent or 32,926 units, to 64,964 during the year, as fewer businesses sent goods across the landbridge.
Highest yearly growth
Overall, combined freight at the port – operated by the semi-state rail company Iarnród Éireann – grew by 50 per cent to 184,891 units, making it the highest yearly growth in the port’s history.
Passenger numbers passing through the port increased by 68 per cent or 98,621 people over the course of the year despite restrictions introduced to suppress the spread of Covid-19.
While UK freight volumes fell, passenger numbers on British ferry routes rose 67 per cent during the year to 192,031. Passenger numbers on European ferry services rose 72 per cent to 51,272. This led to a 68 per cent increase overall in passenger numbers to 243,303 during the year.
Glenn Carr, general manager of Rosslare Europort, said Brexit had resulted in "an imbalance" in Irish Sea freight traffic, with Rosslare and Dublin ports recording a drop in British freight volumes, while Northern Ireland's ports – where checks are "not as robust" – saw increases.
"Landbridge traffic has definitely shifted but we don't know how much UK traffic that would have come through Dublin or Rosslare is now going through Northern Ireland, " he said.
Freight ferry services with Britain would “become more challenging” later this year with Britain’s introduction of post-Brexit checks, he said.
Mr Carr believes Rosslare could add another 200,000 freight units a year over the coming years as ferry companies add more capacity and new vessels and services with mainland Europe and look at connecting to more European ports given the new popularity of direct routes.
“There is no reason why more of those units can’t come down from Dublin Port, which is constrained by space and congestion,” he said.