The IMDO iShip index, which outlines trends within Ireland’s shipping industry, grew by 5% in 2021
The IMDO iShip index, a quarterly weighted indicator that outlines trends within Ireland’s shipping industry, grew by 5% in 2021. The index accounts for five separate market segments, representing the main maritime traffic sectors moving through ports in the Republic of Ireland. Unitised trade includes Lift-on/Lift-off (LoLo) and Roll-on/Roll-of (RoRo), while Bulk traffic includes Break Bulk, Dry Bulk and Liquid Bulk.
This is the fastest rate of growth in the index since 2017, and represents a return to the volumes of freight handled in 2018 and 2019 after the suppressive effect of the COVID-19 on port traffic. Just over 54 million tonnes of freight were handled at Irish ports in 2021, a 2.8 million-ton increase compared to 2020.
In the Dry Bulk market, a 10% annual increase compared to 2020 was almost entirely driven by coal. As stated in the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s (SEAI) annual report;
“Annual electricity generated from coal fell by 86% between 2015 and 2020, but for the first ten months of 2021 it was back to 2017 levels, up 343% on the same period in 2020.” (Energy in Ireland 2021 Report, SEAI, pg. 17)
This trend is reflected in port traffic volumes, as imports of coal through Shannon Foynes Port Company rose by over 1.2m tonnes. In the liquid bulk market, growth of 7% was driven by oil, Ireland’s largest source of domestic energy. Imports of petroleum rose in all three of Ireland’s Tier 1 ports in 2021 as demand for domestic and aviation fuel rose in line with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. Lastly, break bulk traffic across Irish ports rose significantly in 2021, increasing by 12%. This was driven by a return to construction activity in the domestic and international markets after severe restrictions within the sector throughout 2020.
In the unitised freight market, made up of RoRo and LoLo traffic, the performance in 2021 was defined by two main characteristics. Firstly, 2021 recorded a surge in demand on direct services between the Republic of Ireland and mainland European ports. Direct services to these ports are provided by both RoRo and LoLo shipping operators. This demand was driven by the transfer of traffic away from the UK Landbridge, a term used to describe a route to European markets for Irish importers and exporters via the UK road and ports network. Concerns of logistical disruption on the UK Landbridge due to post-Brexit customs controls was the basis for this increase in demand for direct services. LoLo traffic, measured in Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU’s), rose by 12% to 1.17m TEU’s, the highest annual volume on record. RoRo traffic on direct routes grew by 94% to an unprecedented level of 383,000 RoRo units.
The second predominant trend that emerged in 2021 was the increase in RoRo traffic at Northern Irish ports. Through consultations with stakeholders and through detailed analysis of time series trends of RoRo traffic on the island of Ireland, it is clear that haulage companies based in Northern Ireland have transferred significant volumes of business away from RoRo services in ports in the Republic of Ireland. This, along with the move away from the UK Landbridge, explains the decline in RoRo traffic between Irish and UK ports in 2021. These volumes declined by 22% in 2021. Overall RoRo traffic in the Republic of Ireland declined by 3% this year, offset by the surge in traffic on direct services. RoRo traffic in Northern Ireland grew by 12%.
In all, freight volumes through Republic of Ireland recorded robust growth in 2021, and have returned to levels consistent with those before the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, Brexit has had a significant impact on the composition of the Irish RoRo market and has led to unprecedented volumes in the Irish LoLo market.