Port trade at highest level since recession
More than 17m tonnes of goods have passed through Belfast Harbour for the first time since the downturn, according to its 2011 figures.
And it has vowed to embrace the potential of renewable energy after one of its most high profile successes - securing a £50m terminal for DONG Energy.
Overall goods rose by 7% to 17.6 tonnes. Dry bulk, such as agri-food products, exceeded 4m tonnes for the first time ever.
Break bulk rose by 23% to 332,000 tonnes with the harbour attributing a doubling in steel and steel coil to the improved engineering manufacturing sector. Freight vehicles using the port rose by 14%.
But the continued decline of building in the province was evident as timber imports slumped by 21% on the year before - a sixth consecutive year of decline. There was evidence though we were exporting our unused construction materials as stone exports were up 13% to 1m tonnes.
Passengers passing through ferry terminals were also down to 1.26m.
Salt was up 82% as councils stocked up in anticipation of a deep freeze which never came.
Belfast Harbour chief executive Roy Adair said: "This is evidently a very positive set of figures for Belfast Harbour, bringing port tonnages above the 17m mark for the first time since the onset of the global economic downturn in 2007.
"While there are signs of increased activity in some sectors, the harbour is not complacent about future growth. The board will continue to pursue a policy of investing in capital projects to support emerging industries such as renewable energy and to future-proof the demand for new growth at the harbour through land reclamation.
"Belfast has established itself as the most modern and efficient port on the island, and a leader in the UK's renewable energy market because it has sought to invest to diversify. That long-term approach has delivered today's record trade figures, but the corollary is that success in future years is related strongly to the level and quality of investment which the harbour makes today."
He said the harbour was pursuing new business in the UK and further afield, particularly in the renewable sector following a boost to its profile from the new £50m DONG terminal.
But Mr Adair cautioned: "While tonnages handled at the port suggest that business confidence improved slightly across the board during 2011, it has been very sector dependent.
"The latest UK GDP figures have confirmed that the outlook continues to be difficult. Consequently, growth opportunities in traditional trades through the harbour are likely to remain subdued."
Meanwhile, former Invest NI chairman Stephen Kingon and Newry property tycoon Gerard O'Hare are among six new Belfast Harbour Commissioners, along with Dale Farm head David Dobbin, Christine Hayes, Ed Vernon and Rotha Johnston. They are appointed by the Department for Regional Development to oversee the Port of Belfast.
Four Belfast city councillors have also been appointed while Noel Brady, Peter Dixon and Trefor Campbell were reappointed, according to the department.
Property developer Peter Curistan is among six commissioners stepping down, DRD added.