CONTAINER traffic moving through Ireland's ports is now at the lowest levels seen in 10 years, as shipments in and out of the country continue to decline in response to damp eurozone and global demand.
The number of containers transferred through the country's shipping hubs fell by 6pc in the first three months of 2013. Traffic was down even despite a surge in animal-feed imports because of the fodder crisis.
Containers going out of the country fell even more than the number coming in, down by 8pc, the biggest drop since late 2009. This type of export has now been in decline for a full year.
Container imports, down by 5pc as a result of weaker industrial and consumer sentiment, have fallen for 21 consecutive quarters and show little signs of recovery in 2013.
Overall shipping activity still rose marginally over the same period but this was largely a result of the unprecedented levels of imported animal feed coming through ports in response to the ongoing fodder crisis, masking what would otherwise be a continued downturn.
Irish ports have seen record levels of animal feed passing through their quays in recent months as farmers struggle with unusually poor weather conditions.
Animal feed imports were up by 80pc compared with the same period last year, continuing a double-digit surge in demand for these commodities since last summer.
Coal shipments were also up 13pc because of poor weather conditions that prevailed for much of the start of 2013.
Traffic to and from Britain, the country's largest trading partner, fell by 2pc as demand from the UK remained largely subdued.
The latest economic data for the UK, however, suggests some signs of a recovery which may improve demand towards the end of the year.
Imports of construction-related materials showed no signs of improvement.