Belfast Harbour has reported a 4.7% fall in revenues to £62.8m for 2020 after the leisure side of its wide-ranging business activities was hit by the pandemic.
But it said stockpiling close to the end of the Brexit transition period had helped offset the damage inflicted by Covid-19.
The fall in revenues was blamed on the partial closure of the car park and AC Marriott Hotel at its City Quays development during lockdown periods and the loss of cruise ships after the industry ground to a halt globally.
But Harbour executives said they were continuing with major projects, including an extension of the film studio, which has been hosting the Netflix movie production, The School For Good and Evil.
At £30.1m for 2020, pre-tax profit was down 3.8% on the previous year.
The Harbour’s figures were hailed as a “solid financial performance” despite the hit to trade at home and globally from the pandemic.
Chief executive Joe O’Neill said that by the end of the 2020, most sectors of trade had been able to “substantially recover”, while the Harbour was “encouraged by the levels of trade seen in the first half of 2021”.
But Mr O’Neill warned it would be “some time” before cruise, tourist and leisure activities returned to former levels, though more people were already using ferry services.
While daily lives had been turned upside down by the pandemic, the Harbour’s trade was still strong in 2020, with 23.5m tonnes of cargo – ranging from animal feed and grain to coal – passing through, compared to 24m in 2019.
Imported liquid bulk tonnages fell by 3% but this was offset by increased demand for kerosene imports as the rise in people working from home pushed up demand for home heating oil.
The Harbour also benefitted as companies stockpiled in the six weeks leading to the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31. The results pre-date the introduction of the NI Protocol on January 1.
Chairman David Dobbin said: “Without doubt, 2020 was one of the most challenging years in recent memory with the Covid-19 pandemic impacting on every part of our society. Belfast Harbour’s crisis and mitigation plans worked well throughout the pandemic, allowing us to keep the port open on a 24/7 basis throughout the entire crisis, with service and trade uninterrupted, and to deliver a solid set of results.
“This is testament to the hard work and commitment of our staff and the entire port community.”
The business invested just over £43m on port facilities and estate projects over the period, including upgrades to ferry and container terminals.
Construction continued on the £50m 16-storey City Quays 3 office block, which will be Northern Ireland’s biggest Grade A office building when it is completed later this year, and the Harbour is also working on a £25m office building, Olympic House, with Titanic Quarter.
There are a total of £87.4m worth of what Harbour executives said were “strategically significant projects” in the pipeline. Investment of over £250m in the last decade has been self-funded as Belfast’s status as a trust port means all profits are reinvested in the business.