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GB Unitised Trade Down -21%, Direct Trade with Europe up +36%: Brexit Impacts on Dublin Port Clear To Be Seen After Nine Months

27th October 2021
Dublin Port - Total port volumes down -3.3% in first nine months, but core Dublin Port business steady with -0.5% change in trailer and container volumes
Dublin Port - Total port volumes down -3.3% in first nine months, but core Dublin Port business steady with -0.5% change in trailer and container volumes

Dublin Port has today reported trading figures for the nine months to the end of September 2021.

Overall port throughput declined over the period from January to September 2021 by -3.3% to 25.9 million gross tonnes compared to the same period in 2020. Imports from January to September increased by +0.4% to 15.7 million gross tonnes but exports declined by -8.4% to 10.2 million gross tonnes.

Trade Volumes Ebb and Flow in First Nine Months

The outturn after nine months comes after a volatile first three quarters:

  • Weak first quarter v Q1 2020: - 15.2% to 7.8 million gross tonnes
  • Strong second quarter v Q2 2020: + 13.1% to 9.0 million gross tonnes
  • Decline in the third quarter v Q3 2020: - 5.4% to 9.1 million gross tonnes

Brexit Drives Large Growth in Volumes on Continental European Routes

Notwithstanding the decline of -3.3% in overall gross tonnes, the number of containers and trailers in the Ro-Ro and Lo‑Lo modes - the largest part of Dublin Port’s business - declined by just -0.5% to 1,060,445 units but with very different trends between the two modes:

  • Ro-Ro volumes declined by -6.6% to 707,212 units
  • Lo-Lo volumes increased by +14.4% to 353,233 units (equivalent to 637,514 TEU)

Behind the different trends in Ro-Ro and Lo-Lo, there has also been a large and consistent change in the geographical mix of Dublin Port’s trade since the introduction of Brexit border controls in January 2021.

Whereas overall unitised volumes were down by just -0.5%, volumes on routes to Great Britain declined by -21.2% to 537,680 in the nine months (primarily Holyhead, Liverpool and Heysham).

On the other hand, volumes on routes to Continental Europe increased by +36.3% to 522,765 units (mainly Rotterdam, Zeebrugge, Antwerp and Cherbourg).

As a result, unitised volumes on routes to Great Britain now account for just over one half (51%) of all unitised trade where, before Brexit, they accounted for approaching two-thirds (64%).

Allied to this, the proportion of Ro-Ro units which are driver accompanied (181,605 after nine months) has fallen from 32% to 26%.

Evidence of Increasing Economic Activity

As a sign of increased economic activity, new vehicle imports in the nine months from January to September increased by +19.0% to 63,000.

By comparison with the volume decline in the unitised modes of Ro-Ro and Lo-Lo, volumes in the non-unitised modes were ahead after nine months by +3.7% to 4.4 million tonnes:

  • Bulk Liquid imports (mostly petroleum products) increased by +1.3% to 2,868,000 tonnes
  • Imports and exports of Bulk Solid commodities increased by +6.0% to 1,453,000 tonnes

Notwithstanding growth in passenger and tourist volumes on ferries over the third quarter from July to September, passenger numbers (including HGV drivers) after nine months are behind last year by -12.7% to 568,000 and tourist vehicles are down -1.8% to 167,000.

Dublin Port’s Chief Executive comments

Commenting on the January to September 2021 figures, Dublin Port’s Chief Executive, Eamonn O’Reilly, said:

“After nine months, the impact of Brexit on the profile of Dublin Port’s trade has become clear with volumes on unitised services to Great Britain declining by just over one-fifth while volumes on services to Continental Europe increased by more than a third. Because of this, our unitised volumes are now split 50/50 between GB ports and ports in Continental Europe. Before Brexit, GB ports accounted for almost two-thirds.

“The movement of Irish trade to EU markets and away from the UK has also had the effect of reducing the number of trailers that move through Dublin Port which are driver-accompanied. Over the nine months, nearly 60,000 loads which would have been driver-accompanied before Brexit were shipped as unaccompanied trailers. This is bad news from a port capacity perspective.

“In addition, we have seen a much larger decline in gross tonnes in the unitised modes than we saw in the number of containers and trailers; 3.3% compared to 0.5%. Our interpretation of this is that the average size of a load in a container or trailer has reduced because operational efficiencies which the Single European Market had facilitated in trade with Britain have been removed because of Brexit.

“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.

“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.

“Looking to the longer-term, we are progressing with the 3FM Project - the third and final Masterplan project required to bring Dublin Port to its ultimate capacity by 2040 - and will shortly commence public consultation before we start into detailed design and environmental impact analysis. We will lodge a planning application with An Bord Pleanála for the 3FM Project in 2023.”

Published in Dublin Port
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About Dublin Port 

Dublin Port is Ireland’s largest and busiest port with approximately 17,000 vessel movements per year. As well as being the country’s largest port, Dublin Port has the highest rate of growth and, in the seven years to 2019, total cargo volumes grew by 36.1%.

The vision of Dublin Port Company is to have the required capacity to service the needs of its customers and the wider economy safely, efficiently and sustainably. Dublin Port will integrate with the City by enhancing the natural and built environments. The Port is being developed in line with Masterplan 2040.

Dublin Port Company is currently investing about €277 million on its Alexandra Basin Redevelopment (ABR), which is due to be complete by 2021. The redevelopment will improve the port's capacity for large ships by deepening and lengthening 3km of its 7km of berths. The ABR is part of a €1bn capital programme up to 2028, which will also include initial work on the Dublin Port’s MP2 Project - a major capital development project proposal for works within the existing port lands in the northeastern part of the port.

Dublin Port has also recently secured planning approval for the development of the next phase of its inland port near Dublin Airport. The latest stage of the inland port will include a site with the capacity to store more than 2,000 shipping containers and infrastructures such as an ESB substation, an office building and gantry crane.

Dublin Port Company recently submitted a planning application for a €320 million project that aims to provide significant additional capacity at the facility within the port in order to cope with increases in trade up to 2040. The scheme will see a new roll-on/roll-off jetty built to handle ferries of up to 240 metres in length, as well as the redevelopment of an oil berth into a deep-water container berth.

Dublin Port FAQ

Dublin was little more than a monastic settlement until the Norse invasion in the 8th and 9th centuries when they selected the Liffey Estuary as their point of entry to the country as it provided relatively easy access to the central plains of Ireland. Trading with England and Europe followed which required port facilities, so the development of Dublin Port is inextricably linked to the development of Dublin City, so it is fair to say the origins of the Port go back over one thousand years. As a result, the modern organisation Dublin Port has a long and remarkable history, dating back over 300 years from 1707.

The original Port of Dublin was situated upriver, a few miles from its current location near the modern Civic Offices at Wood Quay and close to Christchurch Cathedral. The Port remained close to that area until the new Custom House opened in the 1790s. In medieval times Dublin shipped cattle hides to Britain and the continent, and the returning ships carried wine, pottery and other goods.

510 acres. The modern Dublin Port is located either side of the River Liffey, out to its mouth. On the north side of the river, the central part (205 hectares or 510 acres) of the Port lies at the end of East Wall and North Wall, from Alexandra Quay.

Dublin Port Company is a State-owned commercial company responsible for operating and developing Dublin Port.

Dublin Port Company is a self-financing, and profitable private limited company wholly-owned by the State, whose business is to manage Dublin Port, Ireland's premier Port. Established as a corporate entity in 1997, Dublin Port Company is responsible for the management, control, operation and development of the Port.

Captain William Bligh (of Mutiny of the Bounty fame) was a visitor to Dublin in 1800, and his visit to the capital had a lasting effect on the Port. Bligh's study of the currents in Dublin Bay provided the basis for the construction of the North Wall. This undertaking led to the growth of Bull Island to its present size.

Yes. Dublin Port is the largest freight and passenger port in Ireland. It handles almost 50% of all trade in the Republic of Ireland.

All cargo handling activities being carried out by private sector companies operating in intensely competitive markets within the Port. Dublin Port Company provides world-class facilities, services, accommodation and lands in the harbour for ships, goods and passengers.

Eamonn O'Reilly is the Dublin Port Chief Executive.

Capt. Michael McKenna is the Dublin Port Harbour Master

In 2019, 1,949,229 people came through the Port.

In 2019, there were 158 cruise liner visits.

In 2019, 9.4 million gross tonnes of exports were handled by Dublin Port.

In 2019, there were 7,898 ship arrivals.

In 2019, there was a gross tonnage of 38.1 million.

In 2019, there were 559,506 tourist vehicles.

There were 98,897 lorries in 2019

Boats can navigate the River Liffey into Dublin by using the navigational guidelines. Find the guidelines on this page here.

VHF channel 12. Commercial vessels using Dublin Port or Dun Laoghaire Port typically have a qualified pilot or certified master with proven local knowledge on board. They "listen out" on VHF channel 12 when in Dublin Port's jurisdiction.

A Dublin Bay webcam showing the south of the Bay at Dun Laoghaire and a distant view of Dublin Port Shipping is here
Dublin Port is creating a distributed museum on its lands in Dublin City.
 A Liffey Tolka Project cycle and pedestrian way is the key to link the elements of this distributed museum together.  The distributed museum starts at the Diving Bell and, over the course of 6.3km, will give Dubliners a real sense of the City, the Port and the Bay.  For visitors, it will be a unique eye-opening stroll and vista through and alongside one of Europe’s busiest ports:  Diving Bell along Sir John Rogerson’s Quay over the Samuel Beckett Bridge, past the Scherzer Bridge and down the North Wall Quay campshire to Berth 18 - 1.2 km.   Liffey Tolka Project - Tree-lined pedestrian and cycle route between the River Liffey and the Tolka Estuary - 1.4 km with a 300-metre spur along Alexandra Road to The Pumphouse (to be completed by Q1 2021) and another 200 metres to The Flour Mill.   Tolka Estuary Greenway - Construction of Phase 1 (1.9 km) starts in December 2020 and will be completed by Spring 2022.  Phase 2 (1.3 km) will be delivered within the following five years.  The Pumphouse is a heritage zone being created as part of the Alexandra Basin Redevelopment Project.  The first phase of 1.6 acres will be completed in early 2021 and will include historical port equipment and buildings and a large open space for exhibitions and performances.  It will be expanded in a subsequent phase to incorporate the Victorian Graving Dock No. 1 which will be excavated and revealed. 
 The largest component of the distributed museum will be The Flour Mill.  This involves the redevelopment of the former Odlums Flour Mill on Alexandra Road based on a masterplan completed by Grafton Architects to provide a mix of port operational uses, a National Maritime Archive, two 300 seat performance venues, working and studio spaces for artists and exhibition spaces.   The Flour Mill will be developed in stages over the remaining twenty years of Masterplan 2040 alongside major port infrastructure projects.

Source: Dublin Port Company ©Afloat 2020. 

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