'We’re in a very good place with our new operations': Port of Cork outlines its plans and challenges for 2023

While the return of cruise ships and the opening of the Cork Container Terminal in Ringaskiddy, it has been a busy year for the Port of Cork. Ellen O’Regan talks to the Chief Commercial Officer about the plans and challenges that lie ahead.
'We’re in a very good place with our new operations': Port of Cork outlines its plans and challenges for 2023

Conor Mowlds, chief commercial officer, Port of Cork, at Tivoli docks. Picture: Denis Minihane.

HAVING weathered the simultaneous storms of the pandemic and Brexit in recent years, Chief Commercial Officer of the Port of Cork Company (PoCC), Conor Mowlds, says that 2022 has shown a “very positive” recovery across everything from cruise trade to freight shipping.

However, with energy costs remaining a “standout challenge” for PoCC’s equipment intensive activities, and spiralling inflation threatening to pour cold water on trade, he says for 2023 the company will be happy just to keep on an even keel.

Mr Mowlds told The Echo that the one major issue for PoCC currently is “exponential” energy costs.

“It’s very hard to get to grips with the increase in energy across the board, everything from running our crane operations and our vehicles or trucks, to heating the buildings and the lighting… Energy across the board has increased hugely, and I think that’s a standout issue, and it makes a big impact on our bottom line,” he said.

“Ports are a real barometer of the economy, because we facilitate trade up and down the country… I think 2023, if it’s going to be as difficult as the ESRI and the Department of Finance predict, if we maintain our current cargo levels that would be a successful story, and then we’ll look for regrowth again as soon as practicable in 2024,” he added.

While PoCC are keeping a weather eye on forecasts for 2023, looking back over the past year, Mr Mowlds says there have been some huge successes across different Port activities.

He said the return of cruise ships to near pre-pandemic levels has been the “standout piece” for 2022.

“We had quite a difficult time during Covid in the cruise area. We saw the return of cruise ships in April or May time, and that was hugely beneficial for us,” he said.

Conor Mowlds, chief commercial officer, Port of Cork, at Tivoli docks. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Conor Mowlds, chief commercial officer, Port of Cork, at Tivoli docks. Picture: Denis Minihane.

“We also had the return of Brittany Ferries, the passenger roll on roll off, that came back and it was stronger this year than it’s ever been. We saw over 100,000 passengers, and an increased service twice weekly into the heart of France… it was a big success story,” he added.

Mr Mowlds said that PoCC has already secured record cruise bookings for next year, with more than 100 ships set to visit Cork. He added that communities embracing cruise tourism has been key to attracting return business.

“We’ve seen the people of Cobh in particular, as one of the main recipients, really step up and embrace this cruise tourism and it makes a huge difference. The cruise tourists that come to Ireland to Cork, they want to come back again and again, because of the welcome they’ve received in Cork, and in Cobh in particular, and indeed in Bantry,” he said.

Despite the impacts of Covid and Brexit over the past two years, Mr Mowlds said that it has also been a good year for freight, in particular as the PoCC officially opened its state-of-the-art Cork Container Terminal in Ringaskiddy this September.

The €89m facility marks the single largest investment in port infrastructure in the history of the state, and positions Cork as a port that can facilitate larger vessels than anywhere else in Ireland.

“If you look at things that really affected us in the last two years, they came at the same time. We had Brexit and the fears around Brexit, we had Covid on top of that, but for us we’ve actually handled it in such a way where certainly Brexit has been advantageous for the Port of Cork,” said Mr Mowlds.

“We’ve got new direct routes to Europe which we never had before… direct routes for the businesses in Munster and the southern half of the country which has enhanced all of our connectivity to Europe,” he said.

Mr Mowlds said that the new container terminal is also a “huge advantage” for Cork and for Munster.

“It’s Ireland’s most modern, most capable container terminal, with deep water… we’re in a very good place with our new operations,” he said.

He said that most of PoCC staff previously stationed at Tivoli have been moved down to the new Ringaskiddy facility, but for now they continue to maintain both container terminals.

Conor Mowlds, chief commercial officer, Port of Cork, at Tivoli docks. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Conor Mowlds, chief commercial officer, Port of Cork, at Tivoli docks. Picture: Denis Minihane.

“Now we have two container terminals, which really gives us a lot more strength and depth than we’ve ever had before,” he said.

As outlined in the PoCC’s Masterplan out to 2050, the company plans to completely vacate the city centre quays in the next eight years, and leave Tivoli by 2040, migrating all activities down to the lower harbour areas of Marino Point, Cobh, and Ringaskiddy.


While Mr Mowlds said that PoCC is in active talks with Cork City Council to manage the structured handover of the city centre quays for urban regeneration, the entire manoeuvre is “overly dependent” on the completion of vital land transport links, the M28 between Cork and Ringaskiddy, and the R624 to Cobh.

“Those quays in Cork city are still operating quays and are busy at the moment … you’ll see logs still in there, you’ll see cargo operations in there, because they’re still essential for us,” he said.

Mr Mowlds highlighted that while there are eventual plans to expand the container terminal at Ringaskiddy and build at Marino Point in Cobh to replace the city centre quays, neither is possible until road connectivity is improved.

“We have agreements in place around road usage and they’re important to respect, because there’s no use in having a fantastically efficient container terminal if you’ve got road congestion,” he said.

“For us to close down and move away from those city quays, and ensure that the City Council can regenerate the heart of the city, we really need the M28 built to give us more connectivity, but also on the other side of the river the R624 out to Cobh,” he added.

Mr Mowlds said that the will and engagement is there between local authorities and the TII to get both road projects over the line, and that PoCC hopes the infrastructure will be put in place “as soon as possible” to unlock capacity downstream from the city centre.

“Ultimately, we will be gone from the docklands once the roads are in place. There’s a great future ahead for the regeneration of Cork city, but it can’t be done with the Port of Cork and our operations in it.

“We need to move out of there in a structured way, and that will facilitate some exciting stuff,” he said.

Ultimately, looking out to 2050 and what PoCC hopes to achieve within the lifetime of its Masterplan, Mr Mowlds said that the vision is “a sustainable business model and a Port to be proud of”.

“We will have competed the move from a river to a sea port. You will see our operations focused in the lower harbour. You will see a deep-sea multi-modal port, with a broad range of sustainable activities,” he said.

Mr Mowlds emphasised that what locals around the harbour will also see is increased community engagement from the PoCC.

“We’ve redoubled our efforts in engaging with the communities that we impact upon, because they’re hugely important to us… we are going to continue investing in those communities, like Cobh, like Ringaskiddy, Passage West, Marino Point, in those areas in the harbour where the Port of Cork is most visual,” he said. 

“What they’ll see is, and what we do at the moment is, we’ll meet with them more, and we listen to the challenges they face that are caused by the Port… We’ve now got a dedicated community relations officer which has only been put in place in the last two years.

“What communities are seeing and will see more of is a Port that takes its presence in the community a lot more seriously than it ever did before,” he added.

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