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Belfast Harbour has record year for ship passengers as 1.6m people pass through

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An aerial view of Belfast Harbour

An aerial view of Belfast Harbour

An aerial view of Belfast Harbour

There were record levels of cruise and ferry passengers travelling through Belfast in 2019, with numbers reaching 1.6 million, Belfast Harbour has said.

And tourist coaches coming through the harbour in either direction also hit a record high of 10,000, according to a report by the harbour.

It also said that goods passing through the port passed 24 million tonnes for the second year in a row during 2019.

There was growth in freight vehicles and exports of aggregates.

But milder weather led to lower imports of grain, animal feeds and fuels, as animals spent more time on pasture, and demand was lower for oil and coal.

Exports of stone by Co Down company Conexpo for infrastructure projects in Great Britain and Europe exceeded 1 million tonnes for the first time.

Tonnages in the wider aggregates sector grew by 4% to a record 1.6 million tonnes.

Joe O'Neill, Belfast Harbour's chief executive, said: "Although there has been prolonged uncertainty about Brexit's implications for Northern Ireland, port-related trading activity within the local economy has been steady with tonnage levels staying above 24 million tonnes for the second consecutive year.

"This reflects Belfast Harbour's highly diversified and resilient business model which enables us to operate across every major cargo sector."

Mr O'Neill added that the harbour's long-term goal was to be the world's best regional port.

"That requires significant ongoing investment in infrastructure to deliver projects in partnership with key customers such as Stena Line and also attract new trades to Belfast," he said.

"To that end, we are currently investing £55m to upgrade the Belfast-Liverpool ferry terminal to facilitate two new leading-edge vessels which Stena is introducing and are purchasing 10 new cranes at the port's container terminal to improve the efficiency of container handling."

Container traffic also rose by 2% in 2019, surpassing the 130,000 units handled threshold for the first time since 2008.

Michael Robinson, Belfast Harbour's port director, said consumer habits and the drive to decarbonise the economy were likely to influence the materials handled by the port in future.

"While this will lead to a decline in fossil fuel imports which have been a staple of the port industry for the last century, it also presents opportunities to further develop trades related to the green economy and sectors such as offshore wind where Belfast Harbour has a proven track record," he said.

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