The Port of Larne has moved to allay fears that its future could be in jeopardy due to falling passenger and freight numbers.
As revealed in the Larne Times, the number of passengers passing through the port has plummeted from 890,190 in 2010 to just 668,091 last year.
And the number of commercial vehicles using the port has almost halved in the past three years, down from 357,513 in 2010 to 188,237 in 2013.
East Antrim MLA Oliver McMullan has spoken of his concerns that the future of the port could under threat if the worrying downward trend continues.
But MD of the Port of Larne, Keith Millar has sought to assuage such concerns, and is confident that 2014 will see a reversal in fortunes for the port.
He told the Times: “The Port of Larne is home to the shortest, fastest commercial ferry crossings on the Irish Sea and we are committed to providing both leisure and freight passengers with a first class experience.
“In the last 18 months P&O Ferries has invested £700,000 to improve our ships sailing between Larne and Scotland and is about to complete its significant investment of more than £10 million to provide a new roll-on/roll-off linkspan at the port of Cairnryan, which will be completed in the first half of 2014 and will improve our product still further for the long term.
Mr Millar said these investments represent “clear evidence” of P&O Ferries’ continued commitment to the ferry service between Larne and Cairnryan.
He added: “Our commitment to Larne is shared by the government, with its significant investment in the improvements to the A8 road, providing a high quality dual-carriageway link from the Port of Larne into the all-Ireland motorway network.”
While Mr Millar acknowledged the port had been impacted by dwindling numbers in recent years, he remained optimistic that the worst was now behind them and felt the green shoots of recovery were beginning to sprout.
“Like many businesses in Northern Ireland, the economic downturn has had an impact on business and for the Port of Larne that has meant a reduction in the number of passengers and freight using the port,” he said.
“However, since July 2013 the market has improved significantly and the port is seeing an increase in the forecasted volume of traffic.
“We’re confident that this turnaround, coupled with our significant investment will continue to deliver strong results and improvements for the Port of Larne,” Mr Millar concluded.