Warrenpoint Port set to spend £3m on infrastructure in preparation for Brexit
Warrenpoint Port is set to pump £3m into its infrastructure as the busy harbour prepares to make itself Brexit-ready.
Clare Guinness, chief executive of the port, said that despite the uncertainty over the UK's exit from Europe, the harbour is preparing to build on a record 2017 when it handled 3.6m tonnes of cargo worth £6.2bn.
"Like a lot of people, we are scenario planning, asking 'what if?'. We're just trying to get ourselves in a Brexit-ready position," she explained. "Whether there's Brexit or no Brexit, we still need to bring our goods in.
"We are an island and the majority of goods flow by the sea."
The Co Down dock is spending £2.2m on a new crane from Finnish manufacturer Konecranes, with another £750,000 being invested in refurbishing two older cranes at the site.
The new 300-tonne German-built crane will have the capacity to lift loads up to 100 tonnes.
Appointed as Warrenpoint Harbour Authority's first female chief executive in December, Ms Guinness has brought corporate knowledge from her previous senior roles at agri-food giant Fane Valley and Bank of Ireland.
"We're a strategic asset so I suppose, in that context, we don't believe Brexit will be necessarily negative for us," she said. "But it is frustrating the continuing lack of any sort of a framework.
"You'd love someone to line the pitch, just to tell you what you're dealing with, because it's very difficult to plan.
"But we're doing all that we can. We have to provide an important strategic service to the local economy and we need to be able to do that the minute the button is pressed."
Warrenpoint is Northern Ireland's second largest port and deals with a broad spectrum of goods including grain, timber, steel and cement, and offers a full range of services including container and freight.
Earlier this year the port unveiled a major 25-year growth plan which forecast that freight will rise by up to 80% by 2040.
Ms Guinness said key customers such as Seatruck Ferries, which operates a twice-daily crossing from Heysham, remain "bullish" about the future.
"That's a really busy route for them. They see it as getting busier going forward.
"We have a lot of other customers suspecting an increased appetite, largely fuelled by the growth of the economy in the Republic of Ireland.
"We have to respond to that and make sure we are in a position to fulfil whatever those requirements are, Brexit or not.
"While there is frustration and anxiety around it, at the same time, people are just getting on with doing business.
"We can't stop, we have to keep going."