CEO Insight speaks with Pat Ward, Head of Corporate Services, Dublin Port Company
CEO Insight: How is Dublin Port Company’s Masterplan set to transform the port’s offering?
Pat Ward: Dublin Port Company’s Masterplan 2012-2042 provides a strategic framework for the long-term, sustainable development of Dublin Port. The Masterplan identifies a series of projects for development to transform the port’s offering across cargo, ferry and cruise.
The first major project is the Alexandra Basin Redevelopment (ABR) Project, the largest single infrastructure project in the history of Dublin Port. Currently underway, the project will transform the port’s infrastructure, increasing its ability to handle large ships by deepening and lengthening three kilometres of the port’s seven kilometres of berths. It will also deepen the port to provide an entrance channel with a depth of at least 10m.
Once complete, the ABR Project will provide the infrastructure, capacity and versatility required to futureproof Dublin Port, catering for larger sized vessels and increased trade volumes as Ireland returns to economic growth. Safeguarding the future of cruise tourism to the capital, the project will also enable the world’s largest cruise liners to routinely call at Dublin Port, turn within Alexandra Basin and berth as far upriver as East Link Bridge in view of the city and within strolling distance of public transport connections.
CEO Insight: With expansion plans being principally self-funded, thanks to prudent financial management to date, what does this bring to the redevelopment process, and how does it ultimately benefit users of the port?
Pat Ward: It brings certainty and confidence to the process, and to customers’ own business and development plans. Dublin Port Company’s strong financial position means it is well placed to meet the objective of providing port capacity without recourse to Exchequer funding – a key requirement of the National Ports Policy 2013. The ABR Project is a case in point, financed by Dublin Port Company from its own resources with support from Europe, including €100m long-term debt finance from the European Investment Bank (EIB).
This is the first time in 20 years for the EIB to support port infrastructure development in Ireland. Dublin Port’s track record of advancing and financing major infrastructure projects such as the ABR Project provides customers with certainty as to the future development of the port, allowing cargo handlers, ferry companies and cruise lines to plan and invest accordingly. The port’s growth in recent years has been driven by the investment decisions of its major customers including Irish Ferries, Stena Line, Seatruck, CLdN, Doyle Shipping Group and Ecocem, and it is essential that Dublin Port matches these customers' commitments by investing in nationally important port infrastructure in Dublin.
CEO Insight: What opportunities does Brexit present for Dublin Port? How does it intend to capitalise upon these?
Pat Ward: Dublin Port takes a long-term view in the Masterplan regardless of what might happen with Brexit. The timescales involved in port infrastructure planning and development are so long that there will naturally be swings and roundabouts, and Brexit is one possible negative factor. However, there are likely to be others over the long-run. Likewise, there will also be positive fillips to the port’s business.
That view is informed by the recent recession. In 2007, the port’s trade volumes hit 30.9m gross tonnes. Just two years later, in 2009 this figure had dropped to a low of 26.5m gross tonnes, yet recovered to 30.9m gross tonnes in 2014. This year, Dublin Port expects to approach 35.0m gross tonnes. If the port can withstand the impact of the recent recession in such a short period, it is likely that any effects of Brexit will be without major, lasting or long-term impact on our business.
CEO Insight: To what extent will the unitised cargo sector remain the mainstay of Dublin Port’s business? Which other areas show the greatest potential for growth?
Pat Ward: As the largest port on the island of Ireland, unitised cargo will undoubtedly remain the mainstay of Dublin Port’s business. Recent figures (Q3 2016) show that trade volumes rose 6.8% to 26.0 million gross tonnes in the first nine months of the year. The current pace of growth is so strong that Dublin Port is now on course for a record year for the third consecutive year.
While cruise represents a small proportion of Dublin Port’s business, it shows significant potential for growth as a marquee destination. Every year for the past three years has been a record year for cruise at Dublin Port with 113 cruise calls bringing estimated 180,000 visitors to the city in 2016.
In November 2016 it was announced that Dublin Port will become a home port to the modern luxury cruise line Celebrity Cruises for a mini-season during early summer 2018. Over 14,000 people are estimated to start their cruise holiday from Dublin on one of Celebrity Cruises’ 2,800+ guest Solstice-class ships in 2018. The initiative is worth an estimated almost €6 million to Dublin and the surrounding area in knock-on economic benefits, and represents the most significant increase in Celebrity Cruises’ investment into Ireland in the history of its global business.
The opportunities that the investment will bring to the city are extensive, providing a platform for Dublin Port to further develop its cruise business and, with homeporting, significantly benefit the local economy, bringing additional bed nights and discretionary spend to the capital.
CEO Insight: What do you identify as the most significant challenges going forward for the health of the global ports sector, and how is Dublin acting to mitigate the impact of these?
Pat Ward: One of the biggest challenges for the sector is achieving social integration between ports and populations, whereby the role and contribution of ports to the economy is understood and valued by people living and working in port cities. Popular consensus is essential to the health of the sector, and is what will ultimately allow ports to develop and grow in tandem with their environments as trade volumes rise, vessels increase in size and demand for space increases.
In this regard, Dublin Port has taken steps to re-establish links with the city through a range of cultural, arts and industrial heritage initiatives on the theme of port-city integration. Recent initiatives include the reimagining of a 150-year old Diving Bell on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay – now Dublin’s smallest museum, the commissioning of new Irish music for Starboard Home - two sold-out concerts and an album inspired by the port, city and river, and the launch of a new visual arts programme called Port Perspectives.