A PORT famous for shipping North-East coal around the world is now setting records thanks to imports of the fossil fuel.

Port of Tyne, achieved its highest cargo volumes for more than 50 years in 2013, breaking its own records for cargo handling and passenger numbers.
The import of coal from Russia and the US was key, but the ports long term growth is more likely to be driven by shipments of wood pellet, which is becoming an increasingly important fuel for power stations across the UK.

The export of Sunderland-built Nissan cars also kept workers busy at the  Tyneside facility.

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Its three car terminals handled 640,000 vehicles, which included imports from VW and Audi, a slight decrease on last year's record of 670,000. The dip was blamed on the relative demand for new cars in the UK overseas markets.

In total on the River Tyne 8.1 million tonnes of cargo was handled - the largest volume since 1965. This was a 22 per cent increase on 2012 - which itself was a record year at 6.5 million.

Of the total river cargo 97 per cent was handled at Port of Tyne owned berths.

Mr Moffatt added: "We have continued to invest heavily in the Port and in the workforce to help us achieve our aim of further growth and business expansion in the context of increasing competition in the UK port sector.

"We keep setting the bar higher for ourselves, so it becomes harder to break records, but the investment we have made and the dedication of our personnel who performed magnificently during a period of change for the port helped deliver record-breaking results," added Mr Moffatt, who expects the ports annual turnover could have lifted to about £70m from £63m last year when they are published in May.  

Imported coal and wood pellet volumes were at the highest level ever recorded, with almost five million tonnes of coal and one million tonnes of pellets.

The dredging of the River Tyne which took place between 2010 to 2011 boosted the ports capacity to take bigger coal-carrying ships, explained
Andrew Moffat, the port chief executive, who said recent investment in its infrastructure during the year, including the purchase of two heavy lift cranes.

There has also been significant investment in the development of plans to expand wood pellet handling, storage and transportation facilities - a project that is capable of creating up to 300 new jobs.

The port created 54 new jobs including 12 new apprenticeships to support this growth and facilitate further major growth plans currently in development. This was an increase of 11 per cent in the workforce which now totals 566.

The number of passengers using the Port's International Passenger Terminal at North Shields set new records for both the daily Amsterdam route operated by DFDS and for cruise passengers. A total of 625,000 passengers, up 4 per cent, travelled through the Terminal.

This included 64,000 passengers from the 32 cruise ships that called into the Port in 2013.

The Port's Logistics division with its container terminal, 184-strong distribution fleet of trucks and trailers and 56,000 sq m of warehousing provides handling, storage and distribution services for parts for manufacturing, retail goods, tea and recyclables such as waste paper.
In 2013 the division handled 60,000 TEUs (twenty foot equivalent container units) compared to 64,000 the previous year.

The port's importance to the North-East economy is underlined by estimates that it adds £500m Gross Value Added (GVA) to the regional economy supporting about 10,000 jobs.