Business in and out of Belfast Harbour has reached a record high fuelled by coal imports and the harbour's diversification.
The harbour said tonnages had reached nearly 23m during 2013, with over half the 16% increase due to coal passing through the harbour en route to Kilroot Power Station under a new arrangement.
Overall tonnage was up 30% on the harbour's pre-recession peak as it branches out into new commmercial ventures – including renewable energy, mainly in the form of the construction of off-shore wind turbines for Danish firm DONG Energy.
Other categories reached record highs – and wind farm component trade jumped from just 3,000 tonnes in 2012 to over 200,000 tonnes in 2013.
Belfast Harbour chief executive Roy Adair said: "2013 has been a very positive year for Belfast Harbour as the economy started to recover slowly and investments in new facilities began to come online.
"Coal tonnages have been particularly impressive following capital expenditure in new deep water facilities."
Import and export of dry bulk cargoes – a category which includes coal and animal feed for import, and the export of stone and scrap – grew by 45% to reach a record high of 6.744m.
Liquid bulk for import – mainly petrol and diesel – was up 2% to 2.173 tonnes, while freight traffic grew 8% to a record high of 466,000 vehicles.
Break bulk was up by over one half to 452,000 tonnes, driven by the DONG terminal. The break bulk included items such as cement, steel, paper and material as well as wind farm material comprised of the import of components and the export of the assembled product.
But a still-subdued construction market was reflected by cement falling 40% – its lowest level in three decades. Timber was also down for the eighth year in a row. There was a 2% rise in passenger numbers to 1.4m, the highest figure since 2004.
And 59 cruise ships also called at the port, bringing 105,000 passengers and crew.
But the harbour said plans for a new cruise facility had run into problems. "Preliminary testing at the proposed site has revealed potential environmental issues. Further testing has been commissioned and laboratory results are awaited. The harbour will continue to work with Planning Service and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency to progress the project."
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy welcomed the harbour's 2013 success. "These figures, together with the recent investment in DONG Energy and other ongoing projects, underlines the commitment of the port to achieving the Executive's Programme for Government priority to grow the economy," he said.