Port of Cork: ‘Brexit will bring both challenges and opportunities’

Port of Cork: ‘Brexit will bring both challenges and opportunities’

The Irish port of Cork is trying to position itself as a regional maritime hub with a new terminal set to open next year.

Port of Cork saw its annual container handling volume hit new highs of 229,000 teu last year. It handles around 20% of all Ireland’s imports and exports.

“That growth, in combination with the growing size of container ships, has long made it clear that we needed to upgrade our facilities to ensure that the Port of Cork can remain an international gateway for trade and well into the future,” says Brendan Keating, CEO of the port for the past 16 years.

“The biggest developments during my tenure has undoubtedly been the increasing size and draught of ships, and their knock-on effect on the increase in volume of cargo. Since 2011 we’ve had year-on-year LoLo growth and our current infrastructure for our container business is now pretty much at capacity,” Keating says.

Port of Cork started construction of the new Cork Container Terminal (CCT) in Ringaskiddy in mid-2018 after several years of planning and securing funding.

The terminal will enable the port to service vessels up to post-panamax in size.The first phase of the terminal is expected to commence operations in the first quarter of 2020.

According to Keating, because of Cork’s status as a hub for agri-exports and pharmaceuticals to and from Europe and on other regional trades, the new terminal will have capacity for more than 500 reefers. Additionally, it’s specifically designed with open-ended stacks and an automated vehicle booking system. This will ensure that straddle carriers will be able to collect and deliver boxes to trucks with the minimum friction possible.

The development of CCT constitutes an EUR80m ($88.8m) investment, which was secured through a combination of funding sources, including Allied Irish Banks (AIB), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) as well as European Union Connecting Europe Facility funds and self-finance.

“Our new container terminal development represents the biggest development in the Port of Cork’s history, and we will be working hard to ensure that its expected trade gains are translated into significant economic benefits for the people of Cork, the Munster region, and the national economy,” Keating says.

The project was cited by the EIB as supporting “the economic benefits and urban redevelopment to be unlocked in the coming years and the importance of ensuring alternative transport routes given export growth and ongoing uncertainties related to Brexit”.

“Brexit is likely to bring both challenges and opportunities for us. We’ve undertaken substantial scenario planning and due diligence to ensure that we have the staff and facilities available to minimise disruption for our partners,” Keating says, adding that the port has increased its direct links with continental Europe in recent years.

Additionally, Keating reckons Port of Cork will benefit from Ireland’s hydrocarbon industry.

“Hydrocarbons continue to play an important role in Ireland, and as the host of Whitegate, the republic’s only oil refinery, we expect to benefit substantially from its owner’s ambitious expansion plans,” Keating says.

Over the medium term, Keating says Port of Cork has ambitions to become the primary trade gateway for all trades in southern Ireland, and a digitally-enabled major energy hub.

“We are talking to a variety of Ro-Ro and feeder operators about expanding their business. So even if the overall economic output decreases, conversely we could be seeing increased activity for the port,” Keating concludes.

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