Interview: Port of Cork Prepares for Brexit

Image courtesy Port of Cork

Published Aug 28, 2019 8:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Port of Cork is a key trade gateway for Ireland, and like all ports in the British Isles, it is making ready for Britain's long-expected exit from the European Union on October 31. If Brexit occurs without a free trade agreement between the UK and the EU, Port of Cork wants to be prepared for any disruption. MarEx recently caught up with Capt. Paul O'Regan, harbor master and chief operations officer at Port of Cork, about what the post-Brexit environment is expected to look like and the investments that the port is making for the future. 

MarEx: What effect is Brexit expected to have on the port's operations, and what is the port doing today to prepare? 

Irish ports will be required to deal with the impacts of a hard Brexit to varying degrees. Dublin and Rosslare, whose business models are reliant on the frictionless flow of ro/ro traffic, will probably be impacted first and will have to deal with disruptions as they arise. As the Port of Cork has a higher volume of "lift-on, lift-off" (Lo-Lo) traffic, we are somewhat insulated against the tumult of a hard Brexit in the early stages. However, a modal shift is highly likely which will cause impacts for other ports as they try to adapt.

Nevertheless, because of the growing likelihood that the UK will leave the EU without an agreement we have taken precautions to ensure that there will be minimal disruption for logistics operations. However, port infrastructure cannot be turned on overnight, therefore careful planning and adequate funding must be in place for all ports and airports.

Preparations have been ongoing since the vote in 2016, and our most recent developments have included doubling the size of our customs building in Ringaskiddy and working with the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine to expand our capacity to handle overflow traffic from Dublin or Rosslare. We are also liaising closely with importers and exporters to ensure that they’re fully up to speed with ongoing developments and will encounter no administrative surprises on November 1. These investments will ensure that we can continue to ensure prompt vessel turnarounds and efficient supply chains.

MarEx: How is progress on the new Cork Container Terminal?

The first phase of the work, which we expect to open in 2020 is progressing well. When complete it will provide 360m of quay space and two ship-to-shore cranes, which will allow multiple vessels up to post-panamax to be serviced.

In 2012, we handled 165,000 TEU. By last year that had increased almost 40 percent to 229,000 TEU, and today we handle 25 percent of all Ireland’s imports and exports (Lo-Lo). When complete, Cork Container Terminal (CCT) in Ringaskiddy will have both landside and marine capacity to further build on this growing Lo-Lo market share.

MarEx: What are the main cargo routes that the terminal will serve?

Port of Cork currently services a diverse range of primarily western European ports (e.g. Antwerp, Liverpool, Rotterdam, Bremerhaven, Southampton) with shortsea carriers, Eucon, BG Freight, X-Press, and Samskip. Additionally, we have weekly scheduled stopovers from Central America and Africa/Mediterranean for Maersk, and Grimaldi.

I expect that these will continue to be the main routes served by the CCT. However, from my conversations with these lines and one or two prospective customers, there’s a lot of interest in the new container terminal with 13m depth, and multiple ship-to-shore cranes will be able to improve the fluidity of their logistics and accommodate their post-panamax vessels.

MarEx: Will the new location in Ringaskiddy likely attract more liner services and cargo?

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen quite a bit of growth in our direct links with continental Europe. The most recent example of this was when our longstanding customer Brittany Ferries started a new ro/pax route into Santander, northern Spain. Both the Port of Cork and Brittany Ferries have been very pleased with the early results, and I expect that it will be used as a template for other carriers to follow in the future.

Cork has a global pharmaceutical cluster, an internationally renowned food sector, and a bountiful aquaculture output – all of which have long made it imperative that the Port continues to evolve with these sectors and enable their global ambitions. As such, CCT has been designed from first principles to ensure that imports and exports of refrigerated goods are handled friction-free. CCT will have capacity for more than 500 reefers, and we’re already in advanced discussions with several reefer operators who are looking to expand into Port of Cork.

MarEx: What prompts the drive for the new cruise terminal, and how are cruise lines responding to the proposal?

Over the last few years we’ve seen awareness of Cork as a visitor destination skyrocket by around 30 percent. We’re now in the ‘good problems to have’ situation of needing to expand our facilities to make sure that we can continue to provide the warm welcome every passenger deserves when they arrive on Irish soil.  

In 2018, 92 cruise ships docked at Cork, delivering more than 226,000 visitors, and bringing an economic benefit of more than €12 million ($13.3 million). This year we expect the number of visiting ships to grow by about eight percent with further growth in 2021 visitor numbers and revenue will also increase in line with that rise.