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Traffic continues to grow at Northern Ireland’s busiest port

Summary: Belfast Harbour continued its growth last year handling record amounts of trade during 2018. Improvements continue to be made at the port, while planning permission for a new cruise terminal was granted earlier this year.
Part of he Port of Belfast seen from the air. Belfast Harbour

Northern Ireland’s busiest port, Belfast Harbour, continued is growth last year according to its Annual Report & Accounts 2018. One and a half million passengers passed through the port last year, while ferry operator Stena Line broke their freight record again with a ninth consecutive year of growth – some 532,000 freight units were shipped between Belfast and GB on Stena’s three routes with the Liverpool route alone growing 10%. This follows the introduction of a larger vessel on the “shoulder” freight-only schedule, initially STENA FORERUNNER which was later replaced by sister-ship STENA FORECASTER so the former could return to the North Sea. The further increase in freight traffic means Belfast continues to handle around a quarter of all freight traffic on Stena Line’s ferry routes across Europe.

(L-R) STENA HIBERNIA, STENA FORERUNNER, and STENA SUPERFAST VII together in Belfast. STENA FORERUNNER had just arrived from Holland minutes earlier on the first of many visits to Belfast. Copyright © Steven Tarbox.
(L-R) STENA HIBERNIA, STENA FORERUNNER, and STENA SUPERFAST VII together in Belfast. STENA FORERUNNER had just arrived from Holland minutes earlier on the first of many visits to Belfast. Copyright © Steven Tarbox.

The redevelopment of port facilities to cater for the new Stena E-Flexer ships for the Belfast to Liverpool route, which includes a new twin-tier linkspan, is costing the harbour some £15m. Work on the redevelopment at Victoria Terminal 2 is already underway with the work vessel SGT PEPPER observed working at the berth. The first of the two new vessels, STENA EDDA, is expected to arrive during 2020 and will replace one of STENA LAGAN or STENA MERSEY. The second new vessel is due to arrive during 2021.

STENA EDDA is manoeuvred out of the building dock at AVIC Weihai following floating out on April 15th 2019. AVIC Ship.
STENA EDDA is manoeuvred out of the building dock at AVIC Weihai following floating out on April 15th 2019. AVIC Ship.

A record 115 cruise ships brought 185,000 visitors to Belfast last year, and planning consent was granted for the new cruise terminal at Belfast D3 on Airport Road West during March 2019. Market demand for the facility is being reviewed and “timelines for delivery” considered according to the annual report. In the meantime, the majority of cruise ships will call at D1 at the other side of the Belfast WOW sanctuary rather than Stormont Wharf on the Antrim side of the Lagan which has handled the majority of cruise ships in previous years.

An artists impression of the planned cruise facility at Belfast's D3. Belfast Harbour
An artists impression of the planned cruise facility at Belfast’s D3. Belfast Harbour

A 900,000 tonne increase in trade year on year to a record 24.6m tonnes helped boost turnover at the port to £66.8m in 2018 – an increase of 11%. There was also a marginal increase in containers handled at Belfast Container Terminal (Victoria Terminal 3) with 127,000 units passing through the port, which invested in the worlds largest hydraulic crane, during 2018. This crane was purchased as part of a £40 million redevelopment of the container terminal which commenced in 2018 and will deliver some of the first examples of semi-autonomous rubber tyre gantry cranes to be deployed anywhere in the world. New ship to shore cranes will also allow larger container vessels to be handled. Operating profit at the port, which covers approximately 20% of the Belfast City area, also increased by six percent to £36m, while capital expenditure was up by 24% to £52m. Belfast Harbour continues to handle more than 70% of all seaborne trade in Northern Ireland and also counts for around 20% of all seaborne trade on the Island of Ireland, with only Dublin Port handling more.

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