Kilkeel Harbour reels in major port investment in £35m boon
A London-based international fishing company has announced its intentions to invest in Kilkeel harbour, adding an estimated £35m to the port's turnover.
Hooktone Group, which operates from ports all around the world and has a fleet of some 20 vessels, has become a member of the Kilkeel-based Sea Source, also known as the Anglo North Irish Fish Producers' Organisation (ANIFPO).
In addition to investing in the harbour, Hooktone Group will also be basing six of its vessels in the Co Down port.
For several years, the fishing industry here has been lobbying for a £35m expansion to Kilkeel's outer harbour in order to facilitate larger vessels.
The plans are being promoted by Kilkeel Strategic Partnership as a key economic infrastructure development which would enhance the growth of neighbouring maritime communities Ardglass and Annalong, as well as Warrenpoint.
Hooktone said Kilkeel is ideally positioned on the western flanks of the Irish Sea to grow its north European business sustainably.
If plans for an expanded outer harbour are realised in the next few years, both the company and Sea Source have said Kilkeel will be a major north European marine hub employing up to 2,000 people.
It is understood the current Stormont impasse is delaying progress on the port's expansion.
Hooktone's Maria Hermida said the move is part of the firm's wider growth strategy.
"Hooktone Group has been operating from various ports in England and Scotland as well as internationally for three decades and we have watched Kilkeel and Sea Source develop their plans and grow the business sustainably and in the long term," she said.
"We are keen to work with Sea Source because we share the same objectives.
"Also, our boats are geared for different species of fish so we will be bringing additional benefits including increased quotas to the port as well as new experience and knowledge adding to Kilkeel's wealth of expertise," she added.
Alan McCulla, chief executive of Sea Source, said the partnership represents an expression of confidence in Kilkeel Harbour and its potential for significant growth.
"We are delighted to welcome Hooktone Group to our collective," he said. "The firm's investment in the port shows that success engenders success and we are particularly pleased to have attracted the group here when they could have chosen any number of other UK ports.
"The decision to make Kilkeel one of their strategic bases is further proof the fishing industry when sustainably and responsibility managed is potentially a substantial employer and generator of significant economic growth."
Mr McCulla said that the investment by Hooktone group is a signal that post-Brexit Northern Ireland is already starting to define itself positively, and more partnerships can be expected in the future.
Davey Hill, who leads Sea Source Offshore, said the expansion is critical to the survival and success of the port.
"For us to continue creating jobs and developing the marine economy, we quite simply need a modern, larger port from which to operate," he said.
Sea Source is a consortium of Kilkeel fishermen, engineering firms and fish processors.