Belfast Harbour has bounced back to strong trading and profits of £34m.
And it says the level of trading has been boosted by "the grace periods associated with the implementation of the NI Protocol”.
The harbour saw turnover increase by 17% in 2021 rising to £73.3m on the prior year, while operating profits were up 13% to £34m.
Trade reached record levels during the year, with 25.6 million tonnes of cargo passing through the port, a 9% increase on the 23.5 million tonnes a year earlier and 5% above the previous record levels recorded in 2019.
The harbour says it has “engaged substantially with relevant authorities and key customers” as the new regulations around Brexit have been implemented with a “focus on ensuring that trading flow is smooth as possible”.
“The level of trading has benefitted from the respective grace periods associated with the implementation of the NI Protocol, and has benefited from some traffic diversion from Dublin port services”, it said in its latest results.
But while Belfast Harbour chief Joe O’Neill said the harbour is largely not impacted directly by the NI Protocol “it is more our customers who are having to deal with the Protocol”.
“We are removed from the NI Protocol substantially because we are an infrastructure provider… we are not and importer or exporter, nor do we do regulatory checks.
“To some degree we are removed and it is more our customers who are having to deal with the Protocol.”
Looking ahead it says “risks and uncertainties remain, however, particularly from the ending of the grace periods, and Belfast Harbour will continue to monitor these risks”.
“The ultimate derived demand effects on overall economic activity from Brexit and the NI Protocol, and their concomitant impact on trade, remain difficult to predict.”
It says Belfast Harbour is primarily an “infrastructure provider, not involved directly in cargo trading, haulage, shipping or regulatory checks and hence is largely removed from the direct impacts of Brexit and the NI Protocol”.
Belfast Harbour, which is marking its 175th anniversary, says it welcomed 72 cruise ships in the last year, compared with just one during 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
During 2021 the harbour invested £36.4m in port facilities and estate projects. That included major upgrades to Belfast Harbour’s VT1 and VT2 ferry terminals, operated by Stena Line.
The harbour also says it hopes to progress plans for a freeport status for Northern Ireland which it says “will deliver social and economic benefits for the Region, and which will complement the respective Northern Ireland City Deals”.
“(Last year) saw significant progress in delivering our Port for Everyone’ vision, as we continued to develop Belfast Harbour as a world-leading regional port, and a key economic hub and iconic waterfront for the city,” Belfast Harbour chief executive, Joe O’Neill, said.
“Since 2019 and throughout the pandemic, we have been active in delivery of a progressive, £254m, five-year investment programme. We continue to reinvest our profits into port future-proofing projects, and world class developments and public spaces, helping to create a gateway to opportunity for current and future generations."
Dr Theresa Donaldson, chair of Belfast Harbour, said: “Throughout the challenges of the pandemic, trade has continued to flow, and these results demonstrate the continued resilience of Belfast Harbour and its customers and tenants, as together we adapt and respond to external challenges and operating changes.
“This strong performance provides a firm economic base and positive outlook for 2022, but we remain mindful of the continuing risks posed by the pandemic and of the global energy and supply chain challenges and related inflationary environment.”