CARGO traffic at the Port of Dublin sank by more than 1.6 million tonnes in the second quarter amid Covid-19 shutdowns of auto plants and air services across Europe.
The 17pc slump in April-June volumes at Dublin Port - responsible for most of the State's imports and exports - offered a stark snapshot of how the virus crisis has harmed nearly every aspect of international commerce.
Imports slumped 20.7pc as the import of cars collapsed by 65pc to 9,900. Dublin Port said "a significant decline" in arrivals of vehicles for Ireland's dealers "appears inevitable for the rest of the year".
And imports of bulk liquids, primarily petroleum products, fell by 37.8pc to 715,000 tonnes. Dublin Port attributed this mainly to plummeting demand for aviation fuel and "greatly diminished demand" for petrol and diesel.
But Dublin Port chief executive Eamonn O'Reilly said the worst appeared to be over and described the 17pc drop in cargo volumes as "less than we had feared it might be".
He said cargo traffic for all of 2020 could end up "back to where it was in 2016".
"We saw after the 2008 recession how rapidly the Irish economy can recover from a deep recession and we seem to be seeing some evidence of this resilience in recent months," he said, noting cargo traffic fell 26.2pc in April, 20.5pc in May and 5.5pc in June versus a year ago.
Exports through the port proved more robust, falling 11.6pc to 3.46 million tonnes in the second quarter.
Mr O'Reilly noted that "even during the rapid and deep downturn", Dublin Port added cargo links with Rotterdam, Liverpool and the Spanish port of Santander as it keeps growing dockside loading capacity.
Nonetheless, the number of ships docking during the three-month period fell 19pc to 1,685.
'Ro-ro' - roll-on, roll-off cargo borne by lorries - declined in the second quarter by 13pc, while 'lo-lo' - containers lifted on and off ships by crane - fell 14.8pc.
The port's passenger business suffered more exceptional losses.
Not a single cruise ship docked during the quarter, Dublin Port said, "and none is anticipated for the remainder of the year".
The number of people arriving or departing on ferries dropped 78.2pc to 120,333 - most of them heavy goods vehicle drivers exempt from travel lockdowns. Non-cargo vehicles on those ferries fell by 84.2pc to 24,000.
But Mr O'Reilly said the current weakness in cargo traffic gives the port "some breathing space" to complete its Alexander Basin works and to start the second stage of its Masterplan 2040 expansion.
That stage, called MP2, has received a 15-year planning permission to build four new berths equally shared by ro-ro and lo-lo cargo operators. The ro-ro berths will have depths of up to 10 metres, while the lo-lo berths will have depths of up to 13 metres.
Mr O'Reilly said the MP2 project would allow one of the port's two oil jetties to be converted into another berth for lo-lo cargo shipments.
He said this would happen once "demand for fossil fuels permanently reduces in response to national climate change policies".