Last year, more goods were moved between major UK sea ports and the EU than any other region.

Covering 2018, the latest version of UK Port Freight Statistics from the Department for Transport (DfT) shows that 206.2 million tonnes of goods passed through major UK ports to or from other EU countries.

That equates to 44% of the overall figure of 483.3 million tonnes — a figure almost identical to that for 2017.

(Major ports are defined as those handling over a million tonnes annually.)

However, although freight tonnages remained stable overall, unit load traffic fell — something that the DfT says is probably due to a fall in both imports and exports of passenger cars and new trade vehicles.

Figures show that the UK continues to import more than it exports, with a total of 252.4 million tonnes imported last year, compared to 130.5 million tonnes exported.

Meanwhile, 2018 saw a record number of container units used (six million), while overall roll-on roll-off traffic fell by 1% to 17.9 million units, and liquid bulk goods were down by 5% (though still account for 39% of total tonnage).

The volume of crude oil handled stood at 82.4 million tonnes — down by more than 50% since 2000.

Commenting on the figures for the British Ports Association (BPA), Policy and Economic Analyst Phoebe Warneford-Thomson noted that, despite a temperamental global trading climate and the uncertainties created by Brexit, 2018 was a steady year for port operators.

“Overall port freight figures remain constant although there is plenty of port capacity in the dry bulks, project cargo and particularly in the container sectors,” she said, “meaning shipping companies have plenty of choice.”

This, she argues, means greater competition between ports, which drives efficiencies and innovation.

UK Port Freight Statistics: 2018 can be found at

Last reviewed 10 September 2019