Seatruck in £88m expansion of its Warrenpoint-Heysham freight route
An Irish freight company has announced a €100m (£87.8m) investment to boost capacity on its Warrenpoint to Heysham route "regardless of the outcome of Brexit" talks.
Seatruck Ferries said it will be using two larger freight ferries on the route between Co Down and England - which it said was prompted by a growth in demand for trailer space.
The use of two four-deck vessels on the 11-times-a-week service will allow it to transport an extra 30,000 trailers every year, bringing an economic boost to the region. Last year the port handled 3.6m tonnes of cargo worth £6.2bn.
Alistair Eagles, chief executive of Seatruck Ferries, said: "Whatever the outcome of the Brexit land border negotiations, Warrenpoint Port will continue to be a cornerstone of the Seatruck operation.
"I clearly remember watching the very first Seatruck sailing from Warrenpoint in 1996.
"Even back then we had a very strong belief in our business model, our service and our future strategy.
"Adding larger ships to the Warrenpoint route is the next logical step for Seatruck and I have no doubt that it will be very popular providing more unaccompanied trailer space to our growing customer base, as the industry seeks solutions to the ongoing driver shortage."
And he said the use of larger vessels highlighted the need for a new road - known as the South Relief Road - which would link up Warrenpoint Port with the Belfast to Dublin motorway.
"Seatruck fully support this key piece of infrastructure," he added.
Clare Guinness, chief executive of Warrenpoint Port, said: "This is a significant investment by Seatruck Ferries and is a clear commitment to Warrenpoint Port and the wider Newry, Mourne and Down district, which will directly benefit from the increase in trade.
"We have a strong relationship with Seatruck and the port is supporting the company with the provision of additional terminal areas.
"Our recently launched masterplan outlined our vision for the development of the port for benefit of the wider economy and community. Part of that strategy is to grow freight ferry volumes and this welcome announcement will assist the port in realising that vision.
"It also makes all the more pressing, the need for increased space at the port which must also be supported by key infrastructure projects such as the South Relief Road."
Newry Chamber of Trade and Commerce chief executive Mary Meehan welcomed Seatruck's investment and said the case for the road should be given consideration by the Department for Infrastructure.
A statement on the DfI website said that its Southern Division "are advancing the design and development of a new strategic road link to the south of Newry city, between the A1 Dublin Road dual carriageway and A2 Warrenpoint Road dual carriageway".