Importance of Belfast Harbour / Port
Belfast Harbour is a major maritime hub in Northern Ireland, handling 67% of Northern Ireland’s seaborne trade and about 25% of the maritime trade of the entire island of Ireland. It is a vital gateway for raw materials, exports and consumer goods, and is also Northern Ireland’s leading logistics and distribution hub.
The Belfast Harbour Estate is home to many well-known Northern Ireland businesses such as George Best Belfast City Airport, Harland and Wolff, Bombardier Aerospace, Odyssey, the Catalyst Inc, Titanic Quarter and Titanic Belfast. Over 700 firms employing 23,000 people are located within the estate.
Belfast is only one of two ports on the island of Ireland to handle a full range of cargoes, from freight vehicles to containers, dry, break and liquid bulk, as well as passenger services and cruise calls. Belfast Harbour handled 23 million tonnes of cargo during 2015, similar to its throughput for 2014.
The tonnages suggest a varying performance between sectors in the wider Northern Ireland economy. BBC One Northern Ireland began a three-part documentary on Belfast Harbour entitled Belfast Harbour: Cruises, Cranes and Cargo on 14 April 2020 examining the role of the Port of Belfast in Northern Ireland’s economy.
HISTORY OF THE PORT
Belfast Harbour’s origins date back to 1613 when a Royal Charter for the incorporation of Belfast specified the need for a wharf at the confluence of the rivers Lagan and Farset in what is modern-day Belfast’s High Street. George Benn, in his 1877 History of the Town of Belfast described the early harbour as a poor little harbour’
“The dock, if it could be so-called; or creek, or quay-room proper, extend a considerable way up the river, but its fixed and best-known bounds reached from the sea to the present Skipper Street. This small and most obscure port was the nucleus of the great docks and harbour of modern days.”Records show that by 1663 there were 29 vessels owned in Belfast with a total tonnage of 1,100 tonnes. Trade continued to expand throughout the century, to the extent that the original quay was enlarged, to accommodate the increasing number of ships.
In 2014 476,000 freight vehicles used the Port, a 2.2% increase over 2013. By 2019, Stena Line’s Belfast-Loch Ryan route, Belfast-Birkenhead and Belfast-Heysham service together carried 542,000 freight vehicles were handled; a record number for nine consecutive years.
125,000 containers and 6.0 million tonnes of bulk cargo were handled in 2009. By 2019, bulk cargo throughput had increased to 9.9 million tonnes and the number of containers handled at Victoria Terminal 3 increased to more than 130,000 units, carrying over 2.1 million tonnes of goods. The total trade tonnage in 2019 exceeded 24 million tonnes for the second successive year.
In 1993, container operations moved from York Dock and Herdman Channel to Victoria Terminal 3; a new terminal equipped with three Liebherr ship-to-shore gantry cranes and three rail-mounted stacking gantry cranes. This terminal was operated by Coastal Container Line Limited; a subsidiary of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company; later Peel Ports Belfast. VT3 served feeder traffic from Rotterdam, Le Havre, Antwerp, Felixstowe, Southampton and Liverpool.