Total cargo volumes down at Dublin Port by ‑3.4% for 2020; 3rd busiest year on record 


Throughput increases by +7.6% in Fourth Quarter of 2020 

2020 was a challenging year for Dublin Port but a year which demonstrated, yet again, the robustness of the port’s cargo business with full year volumes of 36.9 million gross tonnes, only ‑3.4% behind 2019.

Notwithstanding the decline of ‑3.4%, 2020 was the third busiest year for cargo in the long history of Dublin Port with higher volumes recorded in only 2018 (38.0 million gross tonnes) and 2019 (38.1 million gross tonnes).

Imports for the year fell by ‑5.0% to 21.7 million gross tonnes and exports declined by ‑0.9% to 15.2 million gross tonnes.

  • The first quarter of 2020 was slow (‑4.9%) by comparison to a strong first quarter in 2019 which had been driven by Brexit stockpiling in advance of the original Brexit date of 31st March 2019
  • The second quarter of 2020 was very difficult (‑17.0%) because of the pandemic with very large reductions in volumes in April (‑26.2%) and May (‑20.5%)
  • However, volumes recovered in the third quarter with growth of +1.1%
  • The year ended with a very strong fourth quarter (+7.6%) driven by the second and final round of Brexit stockpiling.  Within the fourth quarter, volumes in December alone were ahead by +21.7%
‘000 gross tonnes  2020  2019  Change 
Q1  9,219  9,689 ‑4.9%
Q2  7,955  9,587 ‑17.0%
Q3  9,598  9,489 1.1%
Q4  10,092  9,380 7.6%
Total   36,864    38,145   ‑3.4% 

Unitised trade for the full year (trailers and containers combined) fell marginally by ‑0.5% to 1,485,000 units with Ro‑Ro growing by +0.2% to 1,061,000 units and Lo‑Lo declining by ‑2.1% to 758,000 TEU.

In contrast to the unitised cargo modes, imports of new trade vehicles declined substantially by ‑29.3% to 53,000 units.

Due to much reduced transport demand in the economy, Bulk Liquid imports of petroleum products were back by ‑17.0% to 3.9 million tonnes.

Bulk Solids (including agri‑feed products, ore concentrates and cement products) finished the year +7.6% ahead at 2.0m tonnes.

In contrast to the cargo side of Dublin Port’s business, the pandemic drove passenger and tourism volumes down significantly.  Passenger numbers on ferries (including HGV drivers) declined by ‑57.3% to 833,000.  Tourist vehicles declined by ‑61.6% to 215,000.

On the cruise side, there was a single small cruise ship early in the year compared to 158 in 2019.

Commenting on the 2020 figures, Dublin Port’s Chief Executive, Eamonn O’Reilly, said“In the first half of 2020, Dublin Port’s cargo volumes were weak and were hit particularly badly in April and May because of the pandemic.  However, in the second half of the year, volumes strengthened from month to month and we finished the year with extraordinary Brexit‑driven growth of 21.7% in December.  This is normally a quiet month, but December 2020 ended up being the fifth busiest month ever. 

“Against the background of so much Brexit stock‑piling, both on the import side and on the export side, the slow start we are seeing in 2021 was inevitable.  The gradual return to more normal volumes gives an opportunity for cargo owners to adapt to the re‑introduction of non‑tariff barriers to trade with Great Britain 28 years after the Single Market did away with them.

“Whereas the cargo side of the port’s business was resilient in a difficult year, the passenger side has been badly affected by the Covid‑19 travel restrictions with a 60% reduction in passenger numbers and tourist vehicles.  However, with the roll out of vaccines, we are hoping to see this business returning to normal levels later in the year.  On the cruise side, however, the outlook is altogether bleaker, and it is unlikely we will see any cruise ships during 2021.

“Dublin Port ended the year in a financially strong position and, although there was some slowdown in our capital investment programme last year, we will be progressing with €400m of capital works over the next five years with investment of €84 million in 2021 alone.  We will complete construction of the new T4 Ro‑Ro terminal this year to bring an additional annual capacity of 400,000 Ro-Ro units on line.  Outside the port estate, construction of a new empty container depot facility will be completed at Dublin Inland Port.  Notwithstanding the challenges of Covid‑19 and Brexit, we remain focussed on our plans to deliver additional capacity for long‑term growth”.

Q4 Trade Results

Q4 2020  Q4 2019  % change  YTD 2020   YTD 2019   % change 
Overall volumes (‘000 gross tonnes) 
Imports  6,087  5,654 7.7%  21,714 22,862 ‑5.0%
Exports  4,005  3,726 7.5%  15,150 15,283 ‑0.9%
Total   10,092    9,380   7.6%   36,864   38,145   ‑3.4% 
Unitised trade                   
Ro‑Ro units 303,961  264,945 14.7%  1,060,979 1,059,103 0.2%
Lo‑Lo units 114,869 105,895 8.5% 423,715 432,510 ‑2.0%
Total units  418,830  370,840  12.9%  1,484,694  1,491,613  ‑0.5% 
Lo‑Lo TEU 205,882  190,013 8.4%  758,013  774,197 ‑2.1%
Trade Vehicles 12,446 12,517 ‑0.6% 52,838 74,747 ‑29.3%
Bulk trade (‘000 tonnes)             
Bulk Liquid  1,037  1,194 ‑13.2%  3,871 4,666 ‑17.0%
Bulk Solid  587  462 26.9%  1,957 1,820 7.6%
Break Bulk  12 4 224.3%  33 17 91.3%
Ferry traffic             
Passengers* 181,673  343,592 ‑47.1%  832,816 1,949,353 ‑57.3%
Tourist vehicles  45,188  103,620 ‑56.4%  214,700  559,540 ‑61.6%
Shipping activity             
Number of arrivals 1,878 1,846 1.7% 7,282 7,899 ‑7.8%