Ireland’s Port Traffic Saw Strong Growth in 2017

The 15th edition of the Irish Maritime Transport Economist ReportThe 15th edition of the Irish Maritime Transport Economist, a report produced by the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) on Ireland's maritime freight industry, was recently launched at the Conrad Hotel, Dublin.

The report shows that in 2017, total port traffic increased by 6%, with growth driven predominantly by unitised trade, Roll-on/Roll-off (RoRo) and Lift-on/Lift-off (LoLo) traffic, both of which grew by 4% in 2017. The report also highlights a 14% increase in the number of cruise vessel calls into ports across the island of ireland, with 324 calls recorded in 2017. Passenger numbers between the island of Ireland, Great Britain and continental Europe reached 4.29 million passengers in 2017.


Key figures

  • 6% increase in total Irish port traffic recorded in 2017
  • 4% increase in Irish RoRo traffic to 1,120,438 freight units
  • 4% increase in Irish LoLo traffic to 731,451 TEUs*
  • 6% increase in total Irish bulk traffic
  • Overall, passenger ferry traffic slightly increased at less than 1% in 2017 to 4.29 million
  • 14% increase in cruise vessel calls recorded to ports on the island of Ireland.

Freight traffic

There was a 6% increase in overall shipping activity in 2017, with positive growth across all four quarters. Growth was driven by the LoLo and RoRo sectors, with activity increasing in both sectors by 4%. Ro/Ro traffic is a reliable indicator of the trade between Ireland and the UK. The UK accounted for 26% of ROI's EU exports (+2% compared to 2016), a total of €16 billion. For EU imports, the figure from the UK is higher at 39% (+3%), amounting to €17 billion in value terms.

Total Bulk volume for the ROI grew by 6% to 30.3 million tonnes in 2017. This is the second consecutive year of growth, exceeding the 29.8 million tonnes figure recorded for 2015. All twelve ROI ports recorded increases in traffic for 2017. The last time Total Bulk through ROI ports recorded year-on-year growth was from 2010 – 2012.

Passenger traffic

Passenger numbers between the island of Ireland, the UK and Continental Europe saw only marginal growth of less than 1% in 2017. A total of just over 4.29 million passengers travelled on the Central, Continental, Northern and Southern Corridors. Just over 18,000 additional passengers were recorded to have travelled on these routes in 2017. This follows two years of decline in this market in 2016 (-2%) and 2015 (-3%).

Ireland's cruise industry, however, has recorded steady growth since 2011, with 2014 as the only year recording a decrease in calls. An average of 9% increase in traffic has been observed throughout this period. 2017 was the highest year for calls into ports on the island of Ireland, a 61% increase from 201 calls to eight ports in 2011, to 324 call into ten ports in 2017. Passenger numbers have increased by 93% from 214,623 in 2011 to 415,115 in 2017.

Moving Forward

The IMDO is undertaking a number of important studies in 2018. Concerns have been raised about the likely impacts of Brexit on landbridge traffic and the flexibility that exists within the maritime industry to deal with significant modal shifts.The IMDO has undertaken research to address these concerns. The second study being undertaken is to look into the capacity of Ireland's ports network. The third study undertaken is to examine the current capacities, infrastructure, facilities and services that ports must offer the developing offshore renewable energy sector, to include wind, wave and tidal energy resources.

The Irish economy remains heavily dependent on seaborne transport, with more that 90% of our merchandise trade moving by sea. Our maritime industry has shown itself to be responsive to changing market conditions and capable of flexing capacity to meet demand. It is noteworthy that there are major redevelopment projects underway in our Tier 1 ports. Dublin Port is currently constructing approximately 3km of quay walls and deepening the harbour basin and channel to accommodate larger vessels. The Port of Cork is working towards the relocation of much of the port's traffic to a purpose built facility in Ringaskiddy that will accommodate larger vessels and increase capacity to meet the growing demands of the region. Shannon Foynes Port Company (SFPC) has, through its Master Planning Exercise, identified opportunities to increase the port's capacity, particularly in relation bulk cargo flows and recognises the potential that exists within the Shannon Estuary to service the needs of the agricultural and energy sectors amongst others, building on the potential that deep water and available development land can offer various industrial users. Together, Irish ports are preparing for the future and meeting the objectives set out in National Ports Policy (2013) by leading the development of port capacity to facilitate economic growth.

Speaking at the launch of the 15th edition of the Irish Maritime Transport Economist, Liam Lacey, Director, IMDO, said: "2017 has been a successful year for the Irish maritime industry and although 2018 will bring challenges related to Brexit and other geopolitical factors, the ability of the industry to respond to such challenges was not in doubt. Our ports, shipping companies and policy makers have shown themselves to be responsive and adaptable in a very competitive environment and that experience lends confidence to their ability to meet future challenges."

A full copy of the report can be accessed here.

Editors' Notes

*TEUs – twenty foot equivalent units

The Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) is the agency that promotes and assists the development of Irish shipping and Irish shipping services. The IMDO advises the Minister of Transport on the development and co-ordination of policy in the shipping and shipping services sector so as to protect and create employment.

The IMDO releases statistical analysis of the Irish maritime freight and is also responsible for the promotion of the Irish tonnage tax regime. The IMDO operates under the auspices of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and is part of the Marine Institute which is the national agency responsible for Marine Research, Technology Development and Innovation. More information is available on