Record year for ferry and cruise freight boosts revenues at Belfast port – The Irish Times

Record year for ferry and cruise freight boosts revenues at Belfast port – The Irish Times

A record year for cruises and roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) ferry freight has helped boost revenues at the Port of Belfast in 2023, despite a small decline in bulk freight volumes amid global economic turmoil.

Ahead of its annual stakeholders meeting on Tuesday, the port operator, part of the Trust Port network and operated as an independent statutory body, reported turnover of £82.9 million (€97.7 million) in 2023, up 7% from the previous year. Underlying profit before tax of £36.7 million was also up 7% from 2022, it said.

Performance was driven by a 4% increase in RoRo freight – wheeled cargo transported directly onto ferries – to 610,000 freight units during the year, surpassing the previous record performance of 2022. Ferry passenger numbers at the Port of Belfast, where Stena Line is the main operator, remained steady at 1.7 million.

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It was also a record year for cruise traffic, with 57 ships from 32 cruise lines bringing 320,000 passengers and crew to the city and region.

Bulk cargo volumes, however, fell 2% but remained in line with expectations, the port operator said. Total tonnage was 23.9 million, down from 24.5 million tonnes in 2022, the second-highest figure on record.

Meanwhile, the Port of Belfast continued to deliver its £65 million infrastructure investment plan, with progress on several projects across the port and docklands in 2023. These included a new temperature-controlled warehouse, the continued expansion of its television and film studio, and the start of work on a residential development on a section of the campus, called Loft Lines.

Belfast Harbour’s chairman, Theresa Donaldson, said 2023 illustrated its “dedication to the economy and wider society”. She said: “Our historic £65 million capital investment demonstrates our ethos as a Port Trust. We strive to make this organisation the success it is, and we share in that success by investing our profits in projects and partnerships that enable economic growth and create tangible social value.”

Chief Executive Joe O’Neill said the port had performed strongly in a challenging environment.

Port volumes fell globally last year as consumers and businesses reined in spending as inflation pushed up the price of goods. High energy prices, which began to rise after Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, have also made shipping more expensive, hampering international trade.

The Port of Belfast has seen a surge in trade volumes in 2021 as traders diverted more goods through Northern Ireland ports to take advantage of relaxed post-Brexit controls.