Monday 22 July 2019

Brexit will offer port both opportunities and challenges

Dundalk Port was busier in 2018 than in previous years with 55 ships docking, more than double the traffic seen in 2015
Dundalk Port was busier in 2018 than in previous years with 55 ships docking, more than double the traffic seen in 2015

Margaret Roddy

It's always been a case of 'swings and roundabout' for businesses along the Border and Dundalk Port Company is one of those keeping a close eye on how Brexit will play out in the coming weeks.

Sean O'Hanlon took over the running of Dundalk Port in 2011, leasing it from Dublin Port Company.

It was a natural progression for the South Armagh man who had worked in the port for 30 years, starting out as a crane driver.

Business has been growing in recent years, says his daughter Claire, who works in the shipping agency office at Quay Street.

O'Hanlon Shipping Services handles all the work at the port, from doing the paperwork for ships to stevedoring, storage and haulage.

'Sean brings all the trade in and has been working to increase the number of ships using the port,' she says.

Thanks to his effort and the growing economy, the number of ships coming into the port has doubled in the last few years, with 55 ships coming in last year, compared to less than thirty in 2015.

'We're a small port and are restricted in the size of boats we can bring in and also get a lot of competition from Dublin, Drogheda, Greenore and Warrenpoint,' she says.

That said, the port has managed to carve out a niche, bringing in timber from Latvia and winning a new contract to bring in maize for the distillery.

'The maize used to come through Warrenpoint, but with the prospect of Brexit, they decided to bring it in through Dundalk instead.'

And while this was a win for them, she admits 'Brexit could also hinder us. It's hard to know what will happen.'

'Like every business, we just have to wait and see what happens. It could bring more business or it could see us losing business.'

A no deal Brexit could pose a threat to the part of their business which sees scarp being transported from Northern Ireland for export either to England or Europe.

One of the main activities at the port is the export of scrapped cars which come from Northern Ireland and are shipped to Liverpool. Other scrap materials coming from Northern Ireland are exported to Spain and France.

She says that the EPA regularly inspects the port to see that the scrap is stored properly and that there is no oil spilling out of the scrap cars.

There had been complaints from local residents about the smell coming from bales of waste which had been stored at the port for export overseas, she admits, but that business has ceased since the incinerator at Poolbeg, Dublin went into operation two years ago.

And while the prospect of business being channelled to smaller ports from Dublin after Brexit has been mooted, Dundalk is restricted by the size of ships it can accommodate.

One of the main challenges facing the port is the build up of silt in the channel used by ships to gain access to the docks

'It was last dredged three years ago but the sand is building up again,' she says.

'Ships are getting bigger and bigger and it's difficult to bring them in without dredging being done, but it's very expensive.

She pays tribute pilot Paddy Mackin for his skill in guiding ships into the harbour.

Dundalk port was once associated with coal, but it's many years since a coal boat docked at the harbour, she says.

In fact, Bord na Mona are in the process of winding down their operations at the port which had been used as a distribution centre for turf briquettes.

The Argus