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Dublin Port Sees Trade Shift to Northern Ireland and Direct EU Routes

Ireland’s busiest port, Dublin Port, has seen trade with Great Britain decline over the past nine months.  In the same period, business with fellow EU countries has increased over the past nine months.  That is according to figures released this week.  

The decline in trade with Great Britain coincides with record breaking volumes passing between Northern Ireland and the UK mainland.  Dublin Port acknowledges that it has lost trade to Northern Irish ports.  The company also expects this to be a permanent feature as a result of the UK having left the EU single market.

“The only positive thing we have seen since Brexit is that the much-feared congestion and delays as a result of border controls have not materialised.  The average number of physical inspections on trailers coming off ferries from Britain is less than three per sailing. However efficient the border inspections by State agencies are, some Ro-Ro operators are now opting to use Northern Irish ports instead of Dublin. We believe that this dislocation of trade to ports in Northern Ireland will be a permanent feature. The dislocation is a reversal of what happened in Dublin Port when the Single European Market came into being thirty years ago.”

Dublin Port Chief Executive, Eamonn O’Reilly

EU Trade Up, GB Trade Down

According to Dublin Port, unitised (Ro-Ro and container) trade with GB is down 21%, while direct trade with the EU is up by 36%.  This means that 51% of Dublin Port trade is now with Great Britain, the balance with the EU. 

Total volumes at Dublin Port are down by 3.3%, though the core Ro-Ro and container business is steady, with just a 0.5% decline.  Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) figures show that direct ROI to EU Ro-Ro shipments increased by 97% in the first half of 2021, with Dublin handling 124,852 units, Rosslare 26,233, and Cork 1,377.  

An aerial view of Dublin Port. Image: Dublin Port Company.
An aerial view of Dublin Port. Image: Dublin Port Company.

CLdN, Stena Line, Irish Ferries, Brittany Ferries, DFDS, and Grimaldi all added additional direct routes from Ireland to the EU in the first half of the year. CLdN RoRo is Dublin’s main direct to EU carrier.  The Luxembourg-based company offers daily sailings from Dublin to Zeebrugge and Rotterdam with through shipment to Porto, Santander, Gothenburg & Esbjerg.

Container Growth at Dublin Port

Container (Lo-Lo) shipments through Dublin this year so far have increased by 14.4% to 353,233 units (equivalent to 637,514 TEU).  Lo-Lo operators have also been adding capacity. For example, Samskip added a new Dublin – Amsterdam service earlier this year.  CMA CGM subsidiary Containerships has added Dunkirk as a destination on its Rotterdam-Dublin-Cork service, as well as an additional Dublin – Rotterdam roundtrip. 

Looking over Dublin Port towards the city centre. The DFT container terminal can be seen to the right while the Alexandra Quay Container terminal is in the background. The South Bank Quay Container Terminal can be seen to the left of the picture. Image: Dublin Port.
Looking over Dublin Port towards the city centre. The DFT container terminal can be seen to the right while the Alexandra Quay Container terminal is in the background. The South Bank Quay Container Terminal can be seen to the left of the picture. Image: Dublin Port.

Additionally, Irish Ferries’ sister company Eucon now has five container vessels serving its Dublin routes to Rotterdam and Antwerp.  The company added the chartered 803-TEU capacity MV MUSIC to its fleet in January, boosting capacity on its Ireland-EU network by 17%. 

Temporary Disruption to Growth

Despite the challenges posed by Brexit and the Coronavirus pandemic, Dublin Port is confident that it can bounce back.  Two shipping lines are interested in starting services from the port but cannot currently be accommodated.  The port company is seeking to invest in creating additional capacity ahead of anticipated growth in Continental services.  Dublin Port Chief Executive, Eamonn O’Reilly said:

“The long-established year-on-year growth trend we have seen in Dublin Port has been disrupted by Brexit and by Covid-19. However, we believe that this is a temporary phenomenon and that the growth we are seeing in volumes on services to Continental European ports, will, by 2023, drive throughput volumes back to the record levels of 2019.”

“In the meantime, the different patterns in UK trade compared to EU trade are creating capacity pinch points in some parts of the port and we currently have two shipping lines looking to commence services in Dublin which cannot be accommodated. To remove these capacity pinch points, we need to continue our capital investment programme to increase port capacity in the short-term.  This includes relocating the last four empty container depots from Dublin Port to Dublin Inland Port in order to free up six hectares of land for cargo handling.”

https://www.dublinport.ie/brexit-impacts-on-dublin-port-clear-to-be-seen-in-q3-as-total-port-volumes-down-3-3-after-nine-months/

Northern Ireland to GB Freight Growth

Northern Irish ports have benefited from increased red-tape on shipments to GB from south of the border.  IMDO figures show an 11% increase in Ro-Ro traffic passing through NI ports in quarter 2 versus 2019.  This was the busiest quarter on record for NI.  Both Belfast (13% growth) and Warrenpoint (14% growth) recorded their best ever three month period. Growth at Larne was said to have been “robust” with an increase of 4% versus 2019.  Figures are compared with 2019 due to the steep decline in volumes during Q2 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Belfast Harbour handled 68.6% of all Northern Ireland's seabourne traffic in 2020, with the balance made up by Warrenpoint, Larne, and Foyle Port as well as smaller ports. Image: Belfast Harbour.
Belfast Harbour handled 68.6% of all Northern Ireland’s seabourne traffic in 2020, with the balance made up by Warrenpoint, Larne, and Foyle Port as well as smaller ports. Image: Belfast Harbour.

Unaccompanied Traffic Continues to Grow

Unsurprisingly, given the EU-wide driver shortage, 71% of all ROI Ro-Ro traffic is now unaccompanied (as of Q2).  This is an increase from 63% in Q2 2019.  Dublin’s figures reflect this, with accompanied volumes down by 6%.  Total Ro-Ro traffic through the port versus 2020 is down by 6.6% to 707,212 units. Compared to 2019, Ro-Ro traffic through Dublin is down by 15.7%.  

Dublin Port aerial view. Image: Dublin Port Company.
Dublin Port. Image: Dublin Port Company.

With total Ro-Ro and container volumes almost static, this suggests that some exporters and importers are switching to container transport.  While data for the whole of the island during Q3 has not been published yet, total Lo-Lo (container) shipments through ROI were at record levels in Q2. 

The shift of traffic away from ROI to GB routes has been particularly felt in the Welsh port of Holyhead, though the UK Government says that the situation has improved “significantly” since January.  While imports from GB to ROI are down, exports have increased this year.  

Traditionally Holyhead port services have made more use of driver-accompanied rather than unaccompanied traffic.  This is due to the port’s location, with many shipments ultimately bound for the English midlands and southern ports.  Holyhead was the sixth busiest port in the UK for Ro-Ro traffic during 2020, with Liverpool fifth and Belfast fourth.

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