Belfast Harbour today reported a drop in trade for last year, but said it had significantly out-performed other Irish ports.
Northern Ireland's largest seaport said that total tonnages fell by 4.4% to 15.7 million tonnes in 2009 as the impact of recession continued to be felt. However, it noted that tonnages at other ports in Northern Ireland and the Republic had fallen by as much as 18% in the same period.
On the positive side it also said it had seen double digit growth in dry bulk trades associated with the agri-food sector and a 3% rise in passengers numbers to 1.33 million, double the rate of growth in most of the UK port sector.
Roy Adair, Belfast Harbour's chief executive, said: "While nobody in the port industry likes to record a drop in traffic, there are significant positives in last year's figures, particularly for trades associated with the agri-food sector.
"Over the past five years we have invested around £30m in developing new facilities to support the sector and establish Belfast as the leading port on the island for agri-food businesses. That investment has paid dividends with fertiliser imports jumping by 14% to 201,000 tonnes and animal feed imports growing by 13% to over 1.7 million tonnes.
"It's also a clear indication of the resilience and value to the local economy of the agri-sector which has demonstrated, particularly in poultry and dairy related products, that quality Northern Ireland produce remains in high demand."
The Harbour also said that the recent bad weather had boosted imports of grain, animal feeds and heating oil at the start of the year.
While liquid bulk trade slipped slightly, imports of diesel and unleaded petrol grew by 10% and 4% respectively, reflecting increased demand from motorists from the Republic filling up north of the border.
However, container traffic fell 15.8% and break bulk trade such as cement and steel plummeted 49% in tonnage terms, showing the continued impact of recession on manufacturing and construction firms.
Mr Adair said the downward trend in these sectors was beginning to ease and added: "Recent infrastructure developments in other sectors have established Belfast as the leading Port on the island for a number of trades. That, plus vastly improved road access following the completion of the Westlink, should mean that Belfast Harbour is well positioned to build its market share across the island if the recovery gathers pace."