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Dublin Say Brexit Caused Strong Volume Declines in First Quarter 2021

Dublin volume declines due to Brexit
(Dublin Port Company)

Published Apr 19, 2021 2:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

The port of Dublin experienced a significant decline in volumes during the first quarter attributed to the effects of Brexit. While port officials called the results weak, they cautioned that it was too early to know the long-term effects of Brexit on the port and Irish trade.

Cargo volumes passing through Dublin declined in total by just over 15 percent in the first three months of 2021 to just under eight million gross tons. During that time, trade with the UK was down by nearly a third, while direct trade to the EU rose by 18 percent helping to offset some of the loss of activity with Great Britain. These declines came after a strong fourth quarter in 2020 when it was believed many businesses rushed to stockpile before Brexit became effective at the first of the year.

The impact on trade was nearly equally split between the inbound and outbound volumes. The port of Dublin reported a nearly 17 percent decline in exports to just over three gross million tons while imports were down nearly 15 percent to 4.7 million gross tons.

“The first quarter of 2021 was very weak,” said Dublin Port’s Chief Executive, Eamonn O’Reilly. “This is mainly because of Brexit. However, it is too early yet to say what the long-term effects of Brexit will be and whether the declines we have seen so far in 2021 will persist at the same level for the rest of the year.”

Container volume was down nearly 12 percent in Dublin but within that, there was a very large decline associated with the new Brexit regime’s impact on Ro-Ro volumes using what Dublin calls the land bridge between Ireland, the west coast of the UK, and then across the English Channel from Dover to Calais. Total Ro-Ro volumes were down 20 percent in the quarter with a partial offset coming from the loaded cargo volumes (Lo-Lo) in Dublin.

Shippers and the lines responded to the beginning of Brexit with a strong move to the routes serving continental Europe demonstrated by a 25.5 percent increase in Ro-Ro volume between Dublin and the ports in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. At the same time, Ro-Ro volumes to Great Britain were off 29 percent.

The new travel regulations under Brexit were also represented in Dublin’s passenger traffic during the quarter. Passenger volumes were down 63 percent in the quarter including the declines in the number of truck drivers traveling on the ferries in addition to the ongoing passenger restrictions under the COVID-19 mitigation measures.

The impact of the pandemic was also cited as a contributing factor in a 23 percent decline in bulk liquid imports of petroleum products along with the declines in truck and car traffic. 

Discussing the results for the quarter, Dublin port officials also said that they believed cargo volume was diverted during the first quarter to ports in Northern Ireland due to Brexit. “We won’t get a proper sense until later in the year as to how much of the 29 percent decline we have seen in the Great Britain Ro-Ro trade is due to the new border regimes and whether this dislocation will be a permanent feature for the years ahead or not,” said O’Reilly.

Commenting on the outlook Dublin’s officials pointed to the growth in ferry operations directly from Ireland to the continent as well as a belief that with two ferry lines operating to Great Britain from Ireland that the land bridge route would be re-established over time as companies and UK ports adapt to Brexit.

The declines experienced in the first quarter comes as the Dublin Port Company was undertaking infrastructure programs designed to double the port’s capacity by 2040.