Belfast Harbour has said trade volumes were down by up to 25% between March and May as the coronavirus pandemic began to take its toll on economic activity.
Harbour chairman David Dobbin spoke as the Harbour announced “solid” results for 2019, with turnover down 4% to £65.9million and operating profits down 15% to £30.6m.
The Harbour said the drop in 2019 earnings was “largely” due to the completion of a major offshore windfarm contract mid-2018 and the fall in power station coal passing through the port.
Despite the fall in power station coal, more than 24 million tonnes of cargo passed through the port.
Ferry passenger numbers also exceeded 1.5 million for the third year in a row, and cruise ship activity continued to grow with 280,000 cruise visitors during 2019.
But ferry passengers have fallen as a result of lockdown restrictions on travel, while cruises have come to a complete halt.
Speaking about the impact of coronavirus, Mr Dobbin said: “The full implications of the pandemic on trade and our local economy are significant and still unfolding.
“So far trade through Belfast Port has proved remarkably resilient. Early figures for the March to May period show trade volumes down 20-25% on normal but in recent weeks throughput is running around 10% down on last year.
“The worst impacts have been in our cruise, tourist and leisure activities which have all but ceased during the crisis.”
Mr Dobbin said: “The scale of the challenge to get the economy back to pre-crisis levels and to recover our tourist and leisure trade is immense. “However, Belfast Harbour’s sound financial position and ambitious investment plans will allow us to play a key role in helping drive the local recovery, working with our customers and key partners to get the economy back on track.
“I want to assure everyone that we are open for business, our major construction contracts are continuing and we actively pursuing business opportunities.”
Last month the Harbour told Belfast Telegraph that it was keeping two major developments worth a total of £100m - an extension to its film studios and a new buy-to-let residential property at City Quays 4 - “under review” due to the pandemic.
The harbour said that during 2019 it had invested £44m in port and estate projects, with £40m invested to automate container handling and upgrade the Belfast -Liverpool ferry terminal, as Stena Line gets ready to introduce new, bigger vessels.
It also started building work on City Quays 3, which will be Northern Ireland’s largest ever Grade ‘A’ office building.
The last remaining office space in the City Quays 2 building was occupied during the year, the harbour added.