Belfast Harbour handled 23 million tonnes of cargo during 2015, similar to its throughput for 2014 though the make up of cargoes indicates some significant changes in the economy of the province.
The annual report from the harbour suggests a varying performance between sectors in the wider economy with commodities linked to the energy and consumer sectors growing, and a decline in the agri-food sector.
The number of freight vehicles handled, an indicator of consumer confidence, increased by 5,000, surpassing 480,000 for the first time. Imports of home heating oil grew by 13% to 843,000 tonnes as oil prices fell, driving liquid bulk imports to a five-year high of 2.3m tonnes.
Firms exporting construction materials also had a good year with stone exports rising by 6% to a record 1.5m tonnes. Exports of cement products were up 84% to 199,000 tonnes, the highest level for seven years.
Animal feed imports, however, fell back by 9% as the local agri-food sector reacted to well-documented difficult international trading circumstances during 2015. These included Russian economic sanctions on EU food products, and falling demand from Chinese and Middle East markets.
“While the overall figures suggest a steady economic performance for the wider economy, there have been winners and losers,” said Harbour CEO Roy Adair.
“Overall, though, tonnages are more than seven million tonnes higher than the recession’s low point and our long-term projection is for continued tonnage growth. To support this the Harbour pushed through a number of projects during 2015, including an upgrade of its Roll-On / Roll-Off and container handling facilities, plus a new Cruise ship berth.”
Regional Development Minister, Michelle McIlveen, said:
“The 2015 trade figures demonstrate that Belfast Harbour continues to be an anchor point for the Northern Ireland economy, supporting businesses in a variety of sectors. It will be increasingly important that the Harbour’s plans are shaped by the Executive’s wider priorities. Infrastructure development will be a key driver for the local economy and I’m pleased to note that the Harbour continues to invest to facilitate future growth.”