The final UK Port Freight Statistics for 2014 are now available from the Office for National Statistics and together with the release for the first quarter of 2015 show some familiar trends.

The biggest growth areas are in container traffic – measured by unit deep sea trade in lift on – lift off container (Lo-Lo) traffic is up by a headline grabbing 18%. China accounts for an increasing proportion of this, 42% in 2014 compared to 38% in 2013. This suggests a healthy market for Felixstowe, which accounts for two out of every Lo-Lo containers entering the UK and enjoyed a 7% increase in tonnage in 2014, and for newer entrants such as London Gateway (Lo-Lo freight at the Port of London increasing by 14%) and Liverpool 2.

Overall container traffic to and from the UK increased by an impressive 14% and this is not confined to deep sea containers. Trade with European ports, dominated by roll on – roll off container (Ro-Ro) traffic increased by 5% in tonnage terms, Dover benefitting from a 9% increase during the year. Import and export of motor vehicles, dominated by trade with Belgium and Germany and, to a lesser extent, the Netherlands and Spain, increased by 9% to a total of 4.2 million vehicles. Overall unitised (as opposed to bulk) traffic increased by 6%.

The Netherlands in fact remains the biggest trading partner for UK ports, possibly due to transhipment of cargoes which arrive at Rotterdam or Antwerp and are subsequently imported into the UK.

The balance in these growth areas is towards imports, showing how the benefits of an improving UK economy and confident consumer flow through to ports. The UK imported 6 million containers and exported 4.1 million, and imported 2.7 million vehicles compared to 1.5 million exported.

In terms of sheer weight most UK port traffic remains bulk cargoes and particularly liquid bulk, primarily oil and oil related products. Total tonnage remains static at around 503 million tonnes, but this conceals a long running decline in liquid bulk since 2000. In 2014 this appears to have been driven by a challenging market for UK oil refineries. The closure of the Murco oil refinery at Milford Haven resulted in traffic through the oil terminal at Milford Haven dropping by 17%. More widely imports of crude oil fell while exports actually increased slightly by 1%, arresting a previous 53% decline over the past decade.

While dry bulk tonnage stayed level at around 122 million tonnes, there was as shift away from coal (14% down) to other dry bulk. This may be due to coal fired power stations such as those at Drax and Lynemouth switching from coal to biomass fuel.

2014 Highlights

  • Total tonnage stable at 530 million tonnes
  • 98% of traffic through major ports
  • Liquid bulk remains largest category but down by 5%
  • Unitised traffic up by 6%

Biggest movers

  • Dover tonnage up 9% and Felixstowe up 7%
  • Milford Haven tonnage down 17% and Forth down 7%