Trade through Belfast Harbour hits record 24.6m tonnes

Turnover up 11 per cent to £68.8 million as trade rises by 900,000 tonnes year on year

Belfast Harbour  grew its operating profit by 6 per cent last year to £36 million.

Belfast Harbour grew its operating profit by 6 per cent last year to £36 million.

 

Belfast Harbour handled a record 24.6 million tonnes of trade for the first time in its 400-year history last year, latest financial accounts show.

Trade increased by 900,000 tonnes year on year, which helped drive the harbour’s turnover up by 11 per cent to £68.8 million (€76.7 million) in 2018.

The harbour, which handles about 70 per cent of the North’s seaborne trade, also grew its operating profit by 6 per cent last year to £36 million, while capital expenditure increased by 24 per cent to £52 million.

The harbour’s strong financial performance last year was propelled by a significant increase in Stena Line’s freight vehicle traffic to and from Britain.

This jumped by 3 per cent year on year to a record 532,000 vehicles, and the harbour’s latest annual report shows that for the second year in a row more than 1.5 million passengers also passed through Belfast port – including about 200,000 cruise ship passengers.

Last year’s weather, which included a cold spring and hot summer, also helped boost the port’s bulk cargo sector, which grew to 9.9 million tonnes, primarily because of increased imports of grain and animal feeds, a sector which grew to a record 2.3 million tonnes.

Aggregates

Exports of aggregates from Northern Ireland to meet increases from new road-building projects in Britain also performed strongly last year, helping to push the total tonnage of exports from the port to 1.56 million tonnes.

But while the harbour enjoyed relatively plain sailing last year, 2019 is likely to be more unsettled.

Belfast Harbour chairman David Dobbin said: “The outlook for the current year is for a fall in port trade, with a weather-related decline in animal feedstuffs after two record years, and for the continued decline in power-station and domestic coal demand.

“We are responding to these challenges and to trends in the wider economy, such as the shift from spend on traded goods to tradeable services and leisure, and from fossil fuels to renewable energy. We aim to become the most efficient, environmentally-responsible and digitally-enabled regional port in the world with an iconic waterfront.”

In order to achieve this, Belfast Harbour has committed to investing £137 million in “strategically significant projects”.

Aside from the port the harbour estate covers an area of 2,000 acres and in recent years Belfast Harbour has played an increasingly active role in developing the city’s waterfront.

Property projects such as the £250 million City Quays development, which will regenerate 20 acres of ex-shipping land, now include two grade-A office buildings and the four-star AC Marriott hotel.

Belfast Harbour has also developed a £20 million film studio, over eight acres, which last year secured the second series of the Warner Horizon production Krypton.

In its latest annual report the harbour says it intends to “further develop” the film studio in response to increased demand.