#RecordTonnage - Belfast Harbour trade figures reveal that the port handled a record 23 million tonnes during 2014, up 46% since the recession's low point in 2009.
Overall tonnages rose by 1.6%, driven by strong growth in bulk cargo which accounts for over 40% of throughput at the Harbour. Trade sectors which grew particularly well included stone exports (18%), industrial and domestic coal (20%), paper products (33%) and steel (38%).
A record 476,000 freight vehicles also passed through the Harbour during 2014 (up over 2%), while container traffic improved by 2.9% to 125,000 units. The level of new car imports also rose by 10% to 48,000, its highest level since 2007.
Roy Adair, Belfast Harbour's CEO, said: "Surpassing 23 million tonnes for the first time is a major achievement for the Harbour, driven by our ongoing investment programme to deliver best-in-class facilities. It has also been supported by major investments from customers such as Stena Line which has introduced a third ship to its Belfast – Liverpool service.
"Improving economic and consumer confidence across the island has helped drive growth. Increased steel imports, for example, reflects greater manufacturing activity, especially in the Republic of Ireland, while the improvement in freight, containers and new car imports suggests a modest pick-up in consumer confidence.
"As the economy across the island has improved, so too has competition in the port sector. Belfast Harbour is actively pursuing a pipeline of new capital expenditure projects valued at £140m to support further economic growth across the Harbour Estate and to develop new and existing trade opportunities, ensuring that local businesses have access to world class facilities."
The Harbour's animal feed sector performed well, rising 3.3% to a record 2.2m tonnes, while scrap exports rose 14% to a record 373,000 tonnes.
Cement tonnages also improved, increasing fivefold to 79,000 tonnes. This was, however, from a small base and total cement tonnages remain less than one third of pre-recession levels.
Joe O'Neill, Belfast Harbour's Commercial Director said: "Exports from Belfast Harbour grew by 3.6% in 2014, accounting for 42% of all tonnages handled. In 20-years tonnages at Belfast Harbour have grown almost fourfold thanks to a rolling programme of Harbour investment totalling £400 m which has helped develop trade and attracted new business activity in the Harbour Estate.
"A major contributor to that success was Northern Ireland-based quarry firm, Conexpo, which grew its stone exports by 25% to almost one million tonnes in 2014 to meet demand from customers in GB and Europe.
"Conexpo is a good example of a SME whose export growth plans have been supported by Belfast Harbour's investments in new equipment and quays, and the availability of ever larger premises within the Harbour Estate. Our focus over the next 20-years is to ensure that the Harbour continues to grow and invest to support similar success stories."
Ferry passenger numbers remained steady during 2014 at 1.4m while cruise passengers calling at Belfast increased by 23% to a record 112,000.