Belfast Telegraph

Winners and losers in turbulent conditions at Belfast Harbour

By John Mulgrew

Belfast Harbour shifted more than 23 million tonnes of cargo through the port in 2015.

While Belfast Harbour still saw just shy of 23 million tonnes pass through the port - roughly the same as in 2014 - areas such as food imports hit by tough trading conditions, with animal feed falling by 9%.

That fall was by blamed on trade sanctions to Russia, as well as a slowdown in markets such as China and the Middle East.

The latest overall figures for Belfast Harbour also showed the number of ferry passengers dropped in 2015, falling by 2%.

However, Northern Ireland's credentials as a cruise ship destination continue to improve, with numbers up by almost 3% last year.

Belfast Harbour, headed up by chief executive Roy Adair, is in the Belfast Telegraph's Top 100 companies list.

Its current chairman is Dr David Dobbin, who is also chief executive of United Dairy Farmers, which owns Dale Farm.

With the latest figures for Belfast Harbour released, Mr Adair said that while overall figures suggest a steady economic performance, "there have been winners and losers".

He said: "Construction material exports and freight traffic linked to consumer activity have been largely positive, as has been heating oil imports within the energy sector.

"On the downside, international marketplace challenges have negatively impacted Northern Ireland's agri-food sector, leading to a 9% fall in animal feed imports, offsetting any tonnage gains and resulting in a similar tonnage performance to 2014.

"Overall, tonnages are more than seven million tonnes higher than the recession's low point and our long-term projection is for continued tonnage growth."

Belfast Harbour deals with around 70% of all of Northern Ireland seaborne trade, and its vast estate plays host to 700 businesses employing around 23,000 people.

And it's currently expanding its own operations.

That includes building a new £14m cruise ship terminal.

The delayed project has been earmarked for a site at Airport Road West, planning documents have shown.

Belfast Harbour - which has been described as an "artery in the lifeblood of the Northern Ireland economy" - will play host to 81 cruise ships over the next 12 months, carrying passengers from around the world.

Meanwhile, in other areas of business, it was a mixed picture for the harbour in 2015.

Steel imports rose by 6% to 125,000 tonnes, while container traffic fell by around 2%.

That was blamed on a fall in overall manufacturing activity here.

Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen said last year's figures "demonstrate that Belfast Harbour continues to be an anchor point for the Northern Ireland economy".

"It will be increasingly important that the harbour's plans are shaped by the Executive's wider priorities," she said.

"Infrastructure development will be a key driver for the local economy and I'm very pleased to note that the harbour continues to invest to facilitate future growth."

Belfast Harbour's commercial director, Joe O'Neill, said while the business took a hit in areas such as food and coal, overall it was a positive year.

He said overall ferry traffic was also up slightly which highlighted the "general health of the economy".

And Mr O'Neill also said that 2016 has begun quite strongly across the board.

Belfast Telegraph