Belfast Plans Port Expansion to Serve Growing Cruise Trade

Belfast port expansion
Belfast plans a large expansion for the cruise trade and to support commercial shipping (Belfast file photo)

Published Jun 9, 2023 7:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

Plans are underway for a large expansion of the port facilities in Belfast, Northern Ireland to accommodate the growing cruise trade as well as to support expansion of the dry bulk, breakbulk, and possibly project cargoes for the offshore wind sector. According to a report in Ulster Business, Belfast Harbour is moving forward with a plan first approved four years ago for a new heavy-duty quay and deep water berth with an estimated investment of nearly $125 million.

The newspaper reports that the port authority is now seeking expressions of interest ahead of issuing its official tender for the project. No timeline was specified for the project but it is in response to strong demand for space and especially from the cruise industry.

The new facility will be built on 46 acres of reclaimed land at the northern end of the harbor. It will consist of a berth to be used during the seasonal cruise trade as well as for cargo operations. The berth will be 1,115 feet in length. An area behind the berth will be designated as a new yard for cargo including for storage or possible staging of materials for offshore wind farm development.

The plans to expand are in response to the strong cruise trade which is expected to set a new record this year for the number of calls and passengers. Racked by sectarian violence for many years, Belfast only received its first modern cruise ship in 1996. Two years later, in the spring of 1998, the Good Friday Accord was reached bringing an end to the violence and laying the groundwork for the growth of the tourist industry.

Port officials report that since the start of the modern cruise trade 27 years ago, they have received a total of 1,161 cruise ship calls. A total of 75 cruise ships from different lines have included Belfast as a port of call on their voyages and interest continues to grow.

“With an expected record year for the 2023 cruise season, the boost in cruise ship visitors is sure to make a fantastic year for the Northern Ireland tourist industry,” said Naomi Waite, Tourism NI’s Director of Marketing. 

Belfast in May marked the arrival of its two millionth cruise passenger. They recognized passengers aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Dawn for the honor while also pointing out that it was an auspicious start to what they believe will be the industry’s largest year ever for the Northern Ireland city. A total of 165 calls are scheduled from a total of 34 different cruise ships. This represents a 15 percent increase in the number of calls versus 2019, which was the port’s previous record year.

They are projecting that the port will see more than a quarter of a million passengers this year. They highlighted that 15 of the cruise ships will be marking their first-ever call in Belfast this year. 

Port officials consider this new expansion a critical part as they continue to build both the passenger trade and commercial cargo business for the port.