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Cargo handling declines at UK ports

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Dry Bulk,

Overall total freight tonnage handled by UK ports declined by 3% in 2016.This decline is attributable to a large reduction in demand for coal imports.

Despite this, steady growth has been experienced in unitised traffic, which saw its fourth consecutive year of growth in 2016. 484.0 million t were handled by UK ports in 2016, down 3% from 2015. The vast majority of this freight, 472.8 million t, was through major ports. Major port coal tonnage handled fell 53% from 2015, to 12.0 million t in 2016, reflecting reduced demand. Port Freight Traffic (tonnage) Unitised Traffic 24.1 million units of traffic passed through UK ports in 2016, a rise of 2%. Container traffic rose by 3% to 5.9 million units (or 10.2 million twenty-foot equivalent units, TEUs) - a record high - and roll on - roll off cargo rose by 1% to 18.2 million units passing through UK ports in 2016.

Dry bulk

Bulk freight fell in 2016, due to decline in coal imports Bulk freight, including liquid bulk and dry bulk, accounts for the majority of tonnage. Bulk freight has been declined over the past 10 years and fell by 5% overall in 2016. The main reason for the recent fall was a decline in dry bulk, mainly coal imports, linked to reduction in use of coal associated with the move to more sustainable means of energy generation.

Volume of dry bulk goods handled by UK ports has varied considerably over the past decade, largely due to a steep decline in the amount of coal handled. This has also resulted in dry bulk goods handled by UK ports reaching its lowest point since 2000, affecting trends for ports that handled a lot of dry bulk in 2015.


Closure of coal powered stations to meet 2025 emissions target1 and restricted use by 2023, along with several events concerning UK steelworks in 2016, have caused a large fall in the tonnage of coal handled by UK ports. In addition to the closure of Redcar steelworks causing reductions in the North East, Scunthorpe steelworks was sold to British Steel and saw a reduction in output after being sold with several coke ovens being stopped. However, Port Talbot still handles the largest amount of ores of any UK port (5.4 million t), and the third highest amount of coal (2 million t). Figures from BEIS Energy Trends publication show a falling consumption of coal in energy production. 9 coal-fired power stations have closed since 20122 . As more than half of coal supply is provided by imports, falling consumption has driven the drop of port freight in this category. This has been, in part, offset by the growth of biowaste, bioenergy and renewable sources, which now provide 11% of all UK energy.

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