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New Freight Trends Emerge as 71% of all Republic of Ireland RoRo Traffic is Now Unaccompanied

11th August 2021
Between April and June, 291,437 RoRo units were handled at Dublin, Cork and Rosslare Europort, just 0.2% less than the same period in 2019
Between April and June, 291,437 RoRo units were handled at Dublin, Cork and Rosslare Europort, just 0.2% less than the same period in 2019 Credit: Bob Bateman

In Q2 2021, Roll/on – Roll/off (or RoRo): RoRo volumes through ports in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) were consistent with those in Q2 2019 (1). Between April and June, 291,437 RoRo units were handled at Dublin, Cork and Rosslare Europort, just 0.2% less than the same period in 2019. However, the configuration of RoRo traffic in terms of route choice and shipping mode has been significantly altered compared to 2019.

The following is a summary of the most pronounced trends that have emerged in the RoRo freight market:

71% of all ROI RoRo traffic is now unaccompanied, compared to 63% in Q2 2019.

One third of all RoRo traffic in the Republic of Ireland now operates on direct routes to ports in the European Union, twice the share held in Q2 2019. In the first 6 months of 2021, ROI – EU traffic is just 7% below its annual total for all of 2020, and Q2 2021 was the busiest on record for these direct routes.

In terms of capacity, Irish importers and exporters have benefitted from a significant increase in the choice of direct EU services in 2021. After responding to a surge in ‘direct demand’, there are now 12 different direct EU RoRo services available to Irish traders, compared to 5 in 2019 (2).

ROI – GB RoRo traffic has declined significantly since January 2021. Volumes in Q1 2021 were distorted by a pre-Brexit stockpile, combined with strict COVID-19 restrictions in January and February. Q2 2021, therefore, provides a more reliable insight into current volumes on ROI – GB routes. In Q2 2021, ROI – GB volumes fell by 20% compared to Q2 2019. For the first 6 months of the year, GB traffic declined by 29% compared to 2019. ROI – GB traffic now accounts 67% of ROI volumes, compared to 84% two years ago.

In Northern Ireland (NI), RoRo traffic in Q2 2021 was the busiest on record, with traffic rising by 11% when compared Q2 2019. Of the three Northern Ireland RoRo ports, Belfast and Warrenpoint both recorded their busiest ever three-month period, with Larne also recording robust growth.

Underpinning all of these trends are the new customs and trading arrangements between Ireland and the UK that came into force on January 1st 2021 after Great Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. Brexit has had a significant effect on RoRo traffic on the island of Ireland. The most prominent impact has been on the use of the UK Landbridge, a term used to describe a route to market that connects Irish importers and exporters to international markets via the UK road and ports network. Demand for the Landbridge has fallen considerably, and this has driven the simultaneous decline in ROI – GB traffic and increase in direct ROI – EU traffic.

In addition to the Landbridge issue, some RoRo traffic has also been ‘transferred’ away from ROI - GB routes and towards NI – GB routes. RoRo services at ROI ports have historically been utilised by many NI hauliers wishing to access markets in the midlands and southeast of England. From early 2021, it was clear that haulage companies based in Northern Ireland had transferred some traffic away from RoRo services in ROI in order to avoid the new customs requirements involved between Ireland and UK ports.

The new Ship to Shore gantry cranes operating at the Port of Cork in RingaskiddyThe new Ship to Shore gantry cranes operating at the Port of Cork in Ringaskiddy Photo: Bob Bateman

Lift/on – Lift/off (LoLo):

LoLo volumes through ROI ports set a record in Q2 2021, surpassing 300,000 TEUs for the first time. Since the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ireland, LoLo traffic has average 5% growth each quarter on a seasonally adjusted basis. Beginning in late 2020, LoLo traffic has returned to volumes that have not been recorded since before the financial crash in 2008.

The vast majority of LoLo services on the island of Ireland are direct to continental EU ports. As a result, many of the factors that have driven a surge in ROI – EU RoRo traffic are applicable to the Irish LoLo market. LoLo volumes have benefitted greatly from the demand from Irish importers and exports to access EU markets directly, without the need to adhere to customs requirements at UK ports since Brexit.

In Q2 2021, LoLo volumes grew by 10% when compared to Q2 2019. Overall, in the last nine months, the substitutability between accompanied RoRo, unaccompanied RoRo and LoLo services has become more pronounced, with increased competition and dynamic capacity evident in each market.

Passengers

As highlighted in the IMDO’s Q1 report, no Irish maritime market segment has been more severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying restrictions than the market for passengers. Tourism / passenger numbers in the Republic of Ireland increased by 43% in Q2 2021 when compared to Q2 2020, a period that encompassed the first wave of travel restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. When compared to Q2 2019, passenger numbers declined by 87%.

In Northern Ireland, passenger numbers rose significantly this quarter. This was driven predominantly by the easing of restrictions on intra-UK travel when compared to Q2 2020. NI passenger numbers rose by 320% when compared to Q2 2020, and declined by 30% when compared to Q2 2019.

Brittany Ferries departs Cork HarbourBrittany Ferries departs Cork Harbour

(1) As Q2 2020 encompassed the steepest decline in port traffic as a result of COVID-19 economic restrictions, it represents an uncharacteristically low volume of RoRo traffic for Irish ports. 2019 is a more reliable benchmark as it represents the highest annual volume of RoRo traffic recorded through ROI ports.

(2) The RoRo market for both EU and GB services remains extremely competitive and dynamic. As a result, capacity, route choice and frequency have changed frequently as shipping operators adapt to new demand patterns. ­

Published in Ports & Shipping
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