Unitised Traffic Report Q2 2021
Roll/on – Roll/off (RoRo):
In Q2 2021, RoRo volumes through ports in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) were consistent with those in Q2 2019 (1). Between April and June, 291,437 RoRo units were handled at Dublin, Cork and Rosslare Europort, just 0.2% less than the same period in 2019. However, the configuration of RoRo traffic in terms of route choice and shipping mode has been significantly altered compared to 2019. The following is a summary of the most pronounced trends that have emerged in the RoRo freight market:
71% of all ROI RoRo traffic is now unaccompanied, compared to 63% in Q2 2019.
One third of all RoRo traffic in the Republic of Ireland now operates on direct routes to ports in the European Union, twice the share held in Q2 2019. In the first 6 months of 2021, ROI – EU traffic is just 7% below its annual total for all of 2020, and Q2 2021 was busiest on record for these direct routes.
In terms of capacity, Irish importers and exporters have benefitted from a significant increase in the choice of direct EU services in 2021. After responding to a surge in ‘direct demand’, there are now 12 different direct EU RoRo services available to Irish traders, compared to 5 in 2019 (2).
ROI – GB RoRo traffic has declined significantly since January 2021. Volumes in Q1 2021 were distorted by a pre-Brexit stockpile, combined with strict COVID-19 restrictions in January and February. Q2 2021 therefore provides a more reliable insight into current volumes on ROI – GB routes. In Q2 2021, ROI – GB volumes fell by 20% compared to Q2 2019. For the first 6 months of the year, GB traffic declined by 29% compared to 2019. ROI – GB traffic now accounts 67% of ROI volumes, compared to 84% two years ago.
In Northern Ireland (NI), RoRo traffic in Q2 2021 was the busiest on record, with traffic rising by 11% when compared Q2 2019. Of the three Northern Ireland RoRo ports, Belfast and Warrenpoint both recorded their busiest ever three-month period, with Larne also recording robust growth.
Underpinning all of these trends are the new customs and trading arrangements between Ireland and the UK that came into force on January 1st 2021 after Great Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. Brexit has had a significant effect on RoRo traffic on the island of Ireland. The most prominent impact has been on the use of the UK Landbridge, a term used to describe a route to market that connects Irish importers and exporters to international markets via the UK road and ports network. Demand for the Landbridge has fallen considerably, and this has driven the simultaneous decline in ROI – GB traffic and increase in direct ROI – EU traffic.
In addition to the Landbridge issue, some RoRo traffic has also been ‘transferred’ away from ROI - GB routes and towards NI – GB routes. RoRo services at ROI ports have historically been utilised by many NI hauliers wishing to access markets in the midlands and southeast of England. From early 2021, it was clear that haulage companies based in Northern Ireland had transferred some traffic away from RoRo services in ROI in order to avoid the new customs requirements involved between Ireland and UK ports.
Lift/on – Lift/off (LoLo):
LoLo volumes through ROI ports set a record in Q2 2021, surpassing 300,000 TEUs for the first time. Since the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ireland, LoLo traffic has average 5% growth each quarter on a seasonally adjusted basis. Beginning in late 2020, LoLo traffic has returned to volumes that have not been recorded since before the financial crash in 2008.
The vast majority of LoLo services on the island of Ireland are direct to continental EU ports. As a result, many of the factors that have driven a surge in ROI – EU RoRo traffic are applicable to the Irish LoLo market. LoLo volumes have benefitted greatly from the demand from Irish importers and exports to access EU markets directly, without the need to adhere to customs requirements at UK ports since Brexit.
In Q2 2021, LoLo volumes grew by 10% when compared to Q2 2019. Overall, in the last nine months, the substitutability between accompanied RoRo, unaccompanied RoRo and LoLo services has become more pronounced, with increased competition and dynamic capacity evident in each market.
As highlighted in the IMDO’s Q1 report, no Irish maritime market segment has been more severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying restrictions than the market for passengers. Tourism / passenger numbers in the Republic of Ireland increased by 43% in Q2 2021 when compared to Q2 2020, a period which encompassed the first wave of travel restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. When compared to Q2 2019, passenger numbers declined by 87%.
In Northern Ireland, passenger numbers rose significantly this quarter. This was driven predominantly by the easing of restrictions on intra-UK travel when compared to Q2 2020. NI passenger numbers rose by 320% when compared to Q2 2020, and declined by 30% when compared to Q2 2019.
(1) As Q2 2020 encompassed the steepest decline in port traffic as a result of COVID-19 economic restrictions, it represents an uncharacteristically low volume of RoRo traffic for Irish ports. 2019 is a more reliable benchmark as it represents the highest annual volume of RoRo traffic recorded through ROI ports.
(2) The RoRo market for both EU and GB services remains extremely competitive and dynamic. As a result, capacity, route choice and frequency have changed frequently as shipping operators adapt to new demand patterns. ¬
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 RoRo volumes are measured in RoRo Units. LoLo volumes are measured in Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs). To combine both, each mode is converted to tonnes.
The Quarterly Reports act as a summary of Irish shipping activity over the past quarter. They are typically released a little over a month after a quarter finishes. Once the data is collected and our indices are updated, the percentage change between the current year and the previous year is calculated, and these trends are drafted and analysed.
There are five different categories that we include in our statistical analysis:
- Lift On/Lift Off (Lo/Lo)
- Roll On/Roll Off (Ro/Ro)
- Liquid Bulk
- Dry Bulk
- Break Bulk
Typically, the Lo/Lo figures exclude unladen tonnage and the liquid bulk figures are broken down into two categories; figures that include transhipments and figures that exclude transhipments. These figures are used to inform the shipping, maritime and ports industries and also to assist the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in decision making on government policy. The figures are also used in the Irish Maritime Development Office's annual publication, the Irish Maritime Transport Economist.
iShip Index: The iShip index is a volume index for all freight traffic moved to and from the Republic of Ireland. This does not include passengers and transhipment activity. More information on the iShip index can be accessed here. For more information visit the three main cargo sub-sections of the IMDO website.