PRIME Minister David Cameron has hailed an “incredible” North-East port.
He was joined by MEP Martin Callanan, and took a tour of the site, which included its new £6m 750-tonne gantry crane.
Bosses say the 70-metre crane, based at the Riverside Quay, is increasing production by handling 13 containers across a vessel's deck.
Mr Cameron also met the port’s 16 apprentices, who range from engineering to business administration workers.
He said: “It is an incredible success story at the bustling port.
“Turnover has soared 50 per cent to £63m since 2009, with a long-term economic plan.”
The port, which is the UK's largest car exporter, oversees deliveries for Sunderland car maker Nissan, tea maker Tetley, Barbour and Ringtons.
Bosses last year unveiled £180m plans to build warehouses storing thousands of tonnes of wood pellets for the renewable energy market.
The move could create 300 full-time jobs and support 900 construction posts.
Andrew Moffat, port chief executive, said: “We were pleased to be able to show the Prime Minister and Martin Callanan around and let them see the spectacular view from the top of the gantry crane.
“We have just had our busiest time for nearly 50 years and handled record volumes of cargo and numbers of passengers.
“We remain the UK’s number one car exporting port and import about a third of the UK’s raw tea.
“We are also exporting manufacturing parts, retail goods, recyclable materials and grain, so there was plenty to talk about.”
Last year, the port announced record results after coals to Newcastle helped lift turnover to £63m.
The port, once famous for coal exports, is the fourth-largest coal importer and one of the biggest handlers of wood pellet in the world.