Outbound traffic from Northern Ireland ports doubles in two decades, figures reveal
Northern Ireland is exporting twice the volume of freight that it did 20 years ago, with Warrenpoint Port more than trebling its output.
Figures collected by the Department for Transport recorded 27.1 million tonnes of traffic passing in and out of ports here during 2017, 2.2% more than in 2016, against an overall UK decline last year.
While imports account for 61% of the volume, traffic travelling out is rising at a much faster rate than inbound traffic.
A total of 10.5m tonnes of traffic passed out of the main ports in 2017, just over 400,000 tonnes more than the year before.
It's almost double the 5.5m tonnes recorded in 1997.
Belfast remained by far the busiest port, handling 67% of traffic in 2017, ahead of Warrenpoint (12%), Larne (11%) and Londonderry (7%).
Exports from Belfast more than doubled from 3.3m tonnes in 1998 to 7.1m last year.
Warrenpoint has been the other notable success story.
It has risen from 491,000 tonnes exported in 1998 to 1.6m in 2017.
Port chief executive Clare Guinness said the growth had been largely driven by the roll-on/roll-off (RO/RO) wheeled cargo traffic via Seatruck Ferries.
In July Seatruck announced a £90m investment in two larger vessels for its Warrenpoint Irish Sea crossing to Heysham.
The four-deck ferries will facilitate an extra 30,000 trailers every year.
The port's RO/RO growth has been in part driven by Co Tyrone-based engineering firms exporting machinery around the world.
"The roll-on/roll-off is set to continue that growth by 25-30% over the next three or four years. We're certainly on a very good trajectory," said Ms Guinness.
Outside RO/RO, Warrenpoint exports bulk materials from Quinn Cement, Westland Horticulture, as well as scrap, refuse-derived fuel and woodchip, which is exported to Norway.
Seamus Leheny, Freight Transport Association (NI) manager, said RO/RO increased by 1.5% last year, with 846,000 goods vehicles shipping to Britain.
He added: "However, we are behind growth in the Republic, which for the same period saw shipping volumes increase by 6% with RO/RO volumes growing by 4% with 1.12m goods vehicles shipping via its ports."