Issue 2 2019 - FBJ

Belfast bulks up to break records

The Port of Belfast broke all tonnage records last year, smashing through the 24 million tonne barrier to reach 24.6m tonnes, an increase of 900,000 tonnes or nearly 4%. Belfast Harbour commercial director Michael Robinson puts the surge down to a number of factors, including a strong performance by main ro ro operator Stena in 2018. “They carried 532,000 units, which was up 3%, and all routes did well, with Liverpool being the strongest,” Robinson explains. Stena was boosted by a third,

larger vessel on the Belfast- Liverpool route and improved market share on the Belfast-

Cairnryan route. Stena is in the process of

building new E-Flexer ro-pax ferries for the Irish Sea route, two of which will be allocated to

the Belfast-Liverpool

service in 2020 and 2021. The port of Belfast has just awarded a contract for the construction of a double-tier linkspan at Victoria Terminal 2 to handle the new vessels which, with their ‘drive-through’ configuration, will be able to carry significantly more freight than their predecessors. Bulks, and in particular

grains are another strong performer. Here, imported animal feed was boosted by the cold spring and dry

summer which reduced local farmers’ production. Belfast also imports significant quantities of coal, not for burning in fireplaces or power stations, but for washing and sizing by local firm LCC which then exports it worldwide to countries including Australia, Saudi Arabia and Russia for use in the steel and alloy industries. Coal volume was up 37% to more than 1 million tonnes in 2018, says Robinson. Containers were also up,

though more marginally by 1.5%, to reach 128,000 boxes. While this is the highest figure since 2011, they are still some way off the peak reached in around 2007. One factor could


well be traffic switching away from container to ro ro, says Robinson. A challenge for 2019 will

be the wind sector. Current projects

have finished and

the port is awaiting the next leasing round, which could be

a long process. While this will leave a gap in Belfast’s freight revenue, the current windfarm terminal will come in useful for handling the booming cruise business; Belfast is the second- busiest cruise terminal in the UK after Southampton. As well as the new ro ro

Endless meetings with political leaders, MPs, MEPs, secretaries of state and even the Prime Minister on three occasions have still not led to any greater clarity on Brexit, says the Freight Transport Association’s Northern Ireland policy manager, Seamus Leheny. However: “No one’s under illusion about the negative impact of a No Deal.” The implications of this have been thoroughly explained to politicians of all parties, though it is depressing how often already

discredited notions

like ‘Maximum Facilitation’ still keep getting resurrected. Leheny points out that

there is no current border in the world that actually allows what was suggested in the text of the withdrawal agreement. Ultimately: “It all keeps coming back to infrastructure and checks.” FTA in Northern Ireland

strongly backs Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement. Leheny points out that the province “has the most to lose of anyone”. It’s frustrating that No Deal is touted as a possibility by some politicians says Leheny who believes that it could affect not just business but could even

risk breaking up the UK. Meanwhile, a recently

published government report is already warning that Northern Ireland businesses are already relocating across the border, or at any rate are setting up legal entities in Southern Ireland, just in case. Leheny has engaged with

the UK Government’s Border Delivery Group, pointing out that some 75% of the freight moved into Northern Ireland from the south are intermediate goods that then form the basis of finished items. “There has been a lot of focus on Northern Ireland exports, but if there is a hard border, it will jeopardise those intermediate goods too, which would in turn undermine exports.” A great deal has also been

said about the so-called Northern Ireland ‘backstop’ that the EU is adamant would be invoked if necessary to prevent Ireland ending up with a hard border with the UK. This would involve creating some sort of border in the Irish Sea instead and as such is quite an emotional issue, but Leheny questions whether in fact it would be such a bad thing.

“The EU has agreed that, if the Backstop came in, goods would be subjected to the lowest possible 1% risk profile, which is the same as between the

EU and New Zealand.

That equates to 2,979 goods vehicles being checked every year on the Northern Ireland Irish Sea routes, or nine lorries a day – which equates to just one per sailing. And if you consider that 60% of the traffic is unaccompanied, with dwell time at the port in any case, the actual impact would be pretty minimal. The Backstop wouldn’t damage the supply chain.” Moreover, there would be no

obligation on Great Britain to check anything moving from Northern Ireland. In contrast, without the

Backstop, carrying out checks on the Northern Ireland land border would be far more difficult – 4.6m vehicle movements on a free-flowing motorway

(at least, at the

moment) as opposed to just 850,000 a year on the sea routes. In any case, if the withdrawal

agreement does go through it would give two years in which to work out a permanent trade

Seatruck boss Alistair Eagles with Warrenpoint chief executive Clare Guinness

deal and remove the need for the Backstop anyway. Leheny asks too whether the

Backstop would be such a bad thing for the Northern Ireland economy. It would give the province a unique status, able to trade freely with both the UK and the EU.

ramp, Belfast is investing £40m in new and refurbished cranes, at the same time moving from rail mounted gantry to more flexible rubber- tyred gantry operation, while increasing stack height. A new multipurpose hydraulic crane will also be delivered, which will be the biggest of its kind in the UK. Belfast bought a smaller version in 2017. Looking ahead, the coal-

fired Kilroot power station – which lies within the port area – has been thrown a

Small but perfectly positioned

The trust port of Warrenpoint enjoyed a record year in 2018, says chief executive, Clare Guinness. “We handled 3.6

million tonnes, which means we continue to be the second largest port by volume in Northern Ireland,” she told FBJ.


lifeline and will

continue operating until at least 2020, after which a long- decision will be taken on its future. Kilroot is needed at the moment to provide immediate power in the event of the wind power falling short but in a few years’ time, giant batteries connected to the windfarms might be capable of doing the job. Robinson


that repeating 2018’s record will be a tough task, given the absence of windfarm work and assuming that there is no repeat of the surge in animal feed imports. Brexit might also be a dampener, although the port has been working with government agencies to put in place plans to allow it to cope with longer dwell times in port for containers or trailers.

Freight ro ro operator

Seatruck put on two larger ferries and already traffic on the service from Heysham is growing beyond expectations. Woodchips are also

booming, exported by local firm Balcas to Norway by bulk vessel. Guinness would like to nurture bulk traffic in particular as it tends to create the most employment in the port and reinforce its status as a community asset. Most of the port’s staff live within three miles of the gates. It employs about 70 people directly but Guinness estimates that it supports in excess 1,500 in the region. Warrenpoint handles a very

diverse traffic base on its six berths for a port of its size, with a good mix of ro ro, containers (on the regular Cronus service to Bristol) and bulks. The

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