This month we are taking you to Ireland, more specifically to Cork. In what follows, Brendan Keating, Chief Executive of the Port of Cork will discuss his views on the future of his port, ongoing and planned investments, the impact of Brexit, the relationship with the local community and many other interesting topics.
Can you briefly present the Port of Cork? What are its main characteristics and challenges?
The Port of Cork is the key seaport in the south of Ireland and is one of only two Irish ports which service the requirements of all six shipping modes i.e. Lift-on Lift-off, Roll-on Roll-off, Liquid Bulk, Dry Bulk, Break Bulk and Cruise. The port is classified as a Tier 1 port of national significance and has made impressive strides in recent decades. The Port of Cork owns and operates facilities in Cork City Quays, Tivoli, Ringaskiddy and Cobh. In 2017 the Port of Cork jointly purchased Marino Point, a deep-water port facility and set up Belvelly Marino Development Company. As well as Cork, the Port of Cork controls and operates a smaller port in West Cork, called Bantry Bay Port Company.
In 2018 the Port of Cork reported a total traffic through both the Port of Cork and Bantry Bay Port Company of 10.6 million tonnes, an increase of 3% compared to 2017. Total imports increased by 8% while exports increased by 5%. The most growth was seen in the agri-food sector such as animal feed, fertilizers and cereals which increased by 39% over the year. Oil traffic handled through Whitegate Oil Refinery owned by Canadian company Irving Oil saw an increase of 4%. Total container volumes through both Tivoli and Ringaskiddy Container Terminals grew by 6% compared to 2017 figures, with a total of 229,762 TEU’s handled in 2018. In 2018 the Port of Cork handled 95 cruise liners bringing over 157,000 passengers and crew to the region, while Bantry Bay Port Company welcomed 10 cruise liners to the harbour town.
As in any port, the Port of Cork has its challenges. The biggest challenge most recently has been the need to relocate all port operations from our current City Container Terminal at Tivoli to the lower harbour in Ringaskiddy. With ships globally getting larger at an accelerated pace, the Port of Cork faced access restrictions on the river and in future proofing the port, decided to move to a new deep-sea location at Ringaskiddy, Cork Container Terminal.
The Port of Cork is a commercial Semi-State Company employing up to 120 employees.
What is your vision for the Port of Cork for the next decade to come?
My vision for the Port of Cork would be that it would become a digitally enabled major energy hub and the primary trade gateway for all trades on the south coast of Ireland focused on handling an excess of 650,000 TEUs per annum in both LoLo and RoRo shipping modes.
It is also important to maintain the strong programme of investment in capital, primarily focusing on improving port infrastructure and facilities. In 2018, the redevelopment project marked a major milestone with the launch of a new €80 million Cork Container Terminal. This major port infrastructure redevelopment project will help grow cargo volumes and support developments in port-centred logistics activities.
Once operational by the end of Q1 2020, the new terminal will enable the port to handle up to 450,000 TEU per annum, which is something to be excited about. We already possess significant natural depth in Cork harbour, and our work on Cork Container Terminal will enable us to accommodate vessels of 5500 to 6000 TEUs.
While the construction of the Cork Container Terminal represents the critical component at the heart of the overall Ringaskiddy Port Redevelopment Project, it is far from being the only development planned. Following the completion of the terminal we will then turn to our plans to extend the Ringaskiddy Deep Bulk Berth. This will, again, be a large-scale project and in the coming months we will be working to put the funding in place for this project.
Over the next decade we will grow our cruise business and develop the facilities to accommodate this. We are projecting the number of cruise calls to grow from 100 currently to 200 in the next ten years.
In the absence of an appropriate agreement between the EU and the UK, the Brexit might install additional barriers to trade between the EU and the UK. How is the Port of Cork preparing for Brexit? In your view, what should be prioritised in the negotiations for a future agreement between the EU and the UK to preserve a well functioning trade environment?
Going forward, and even in the face of continued uncertainties related to Brexit, the Port of Cork has much to be positive about as it expects to see further growth in traffic. In 2018, long standing customer Brittany Ferries started a new direct Ro-Pax route into Santander, Northern Spain from Cork. The Port of Cork and Brittany Ferries would expect a fifty-fifty split between passengers and freight carried. This new service, the first direct service from Ireland to Spain, offers the option for freight carriers and passengers to bypass the UK and French land-bridge to Spain as Brexit uncertainty continues. The Port of Cork’s hinterland is the key primary pharma, agriculture and food & drink output region in the country. This more efficient supply chain offers freight customers a direct route to the market, enabling them to get their produce to the market quicker than if they travel through traditional ports.
Due to Brexit, the North Sea – Mediterranean Corridor of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) will be realigned. The Port of Cork is on the North Sea Mediterranean Corridor. Do you welcome the realignment of the North Sea – Mediterranean Corridor? Can you describe how the Port of Cork has benefitted from being located on the North Sea – Mediterranean Corridor?
The realignment of both the EU North Sea – Mediterranean and Atlantic Corridors is most welcome and should be beneficial to The Port of Cork. However, it is not yet possible to make a judgement as to the value which will accrue from these initiatives.
Our designation as a Core Port on the North Sea –Mediterranean Corridor has been very beneficial and enables us to attract considerable EU funding for our infrastructure investment projects
The cruise business plays an important role in your port. How is this business developing? What are the main challenges?
In 2018, a total of 92 cruise ships visited Cork, the most significant cruise season ever for the Port of Cork; and with over 157,000 passengers and 69,000 crews stepping ashore this summer, the local economy gained over €12 Million. In 2019, 104 cruise ships are scheduled to call.
The increased cruise calls to Cork are indicative of the wider global cruise business which has seen huge growth. In 2018 it is estimated that 27.2 million people will have taken a cruise on over 450 cruise ships worldwide. With the global cruise ship order book for new build contracts reaching 113 ships between now and 2027, Cork cruise business is set to grow further in the coming years and the Port of Cork is eager to attract these new ships.
Towards the end of 2018 the Port of Cork visited all the major cruise lines calling to Cork and feedback from the companies was very positive in terms of their passenger experiences when visiting Cork. Currently all cruise operations are handled in Cobh, Ireland’s only dedicated cruise berth, however with the continued growth in calls, the Port of Cork is now keen to explore the option of a second cruise berth in Cobh.
In planning for the delivery of a second cruise berth, the Port of Cork recently purchased a waterside property in Cobh where - a dedicated cruise facility already exists. In December 2018 through an ‘Expressions of Interest initiative’, submissions from potential interested parties were invited for the development and operation of a new cruise berth.
This exercise has clearly demonstrated that there is an appetite in the market for such a development. We are confident this business has significant growth potential and with the right partners we can capitalise on this.
The 2019 ESPO Conference, taking place on 23-24 May in Livorno, will focus on “Europe’s ports in a new world”. One of the topics that will be covered during the conference is the impact of geopolitical crises and looming trade wars on ports and maritime trade. Is the Port of Cork monitoring these developments? Do you think the Port of Cork will be affected by this?
The ongoing threat of global trade wars is of concern to all in the Port of Cork and is an issue which we continue to monitor. Any disruptions to trade patterns could have a very serious negative economic impact to Ireland’s open economy, which is critically dependant on trade in the achievement of economic growth.
The Port of Cork is an important oil port. The oil industry in Europe seems to have a challenging future, as climate change policies, projected future scarcity of oil, recurring geopolitical problems, and other developments are obliging governments in the EU to seek for alternative energy sources. What is your vision for the port in this respect? Are you developing strategies to cope with the possible loss of oil traffic?
Oil traffic through the Port of Cork makes up almost 50% of the total trade traffic handled through the port. This is a significant trade for us. Cork Harbour is home to Ireland’s only oil refinery, currently owned by Canadian company Irving Oil. Any reductions in this liquid bulk would have a knock-on effect on the Port of Cork.
In 2017, the Port of Cork Company welcomed a delegation from NextDecade Corporation (NASDAQ: NEXT), a U.S.-based Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) development company to Cork. The visit by NextDecade marked the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by our two companies to explore a joint development opportunity for a new Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU) and associated LNG import terminal infrastructure in Ireland.
The FSRU development would be supplied with LNG sourced from NextDecade’s proposed Rio Grande LNG export facility at the Port of Brownsville in South Texas, providing a source of competitively-priced energy to Ireland and its partners.
As an entry point into the Irish energy market, Port of Cork is an attractive location for an FSRU-based LNG import terminal. Surrounded by existing marine infrastructure and industrial facilities, the proposed site is less than 2 km from Gas Networks Ireland Grid and would benefit from relatively benign metocean conditions.
What are the main focal points of your port’s environmental policy? Does your port take any measures to reduce its carbon footprint?
The Ports of Cork and Bantry as a world class ports regard high standards of performance in occupational health and safety, environment, energy and quality management as being of utmost importance. We are committed to the provision of a quality service to our customers and the maintenance of modern and efficient safety, health, environment, energy and quality management systems.
We recognise that effective occupational health and safety arrangements enable staff to work more efficiently and less stressfully, in an environment where safety, health and welfare are promoted and risks are effectively assessed and controlled.
We are also committed to leading the wider port community to minimise environmental impacts and improve our energy consumption efficiency through co-ordinated environmental management, reducing CO2 emissions and conserving natural resources respecting the principles of environmental sustainability and corporate social responsibility.
As part of this we are committed to the following:
- Implement a Safety, Health, Environment, Energy & Quality (SHEEQ) Management System, in compliance with and certified to ISO14001 & OHSAS 18001 and compliant with European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) EcoPorts criteria to identify, evaluate and control any SHEEQ risks with the principal goal of avoidance of risk and achieving energy performance improvement. Work towards certification to ISO 50001.
- Minimise adverse impacts of our activities on the environment, through the setting and review of realistic objectives and measurable targets in accordance with the principles of the ESPO "Green Guide".
- Pollution prevention, emissions management, waste minimisation, efficient resource use and conservation awareness. Investigate renewable and alternative sources of energy.
The Port of Cork is located near the city of Cork. The relationship with the local community is thus of paramount importance. How is the port engaging with the local community?
Ongoing engagement with communities around Cork Harbour is important for the Port of Cork. As well as operating in a City environment, the Port also operates close to residential areas. We believe continuing dialogue and support helps us to continue our relationships with communities. The Port of Cork has a corporate social responsibility strategy which we feel strongly about and where we give back where we can to communities. As part of our Ringaskiddy Port Redevelopment, we committed €1 million to the local town as part of a community gain initiative.
We are committed to education and annually run a school initiative aimed at young school children to educate them on the port, its history and environment and its commercial aspects. It’s important for commercial, environment and leisure to work together and in Cork; we feel this is done effectively.