The amount of shipping traffic using Irish ports slumped as much as 20% in the second half of 2008, the latest figures from the Irish Maritime Development Office reveals.

The IMDO says that 2008 began with a moderate slowdown in traffic volumes in the first half of the year, before market conditions deteriorated abruptly over the third and fourth quarters. Declines in both volumes of freight and passenger traffic were reported.

The office says the most notable correction in the data was the shift change in import traffic, which had been running at a growth rate of 2:1 compared to export volumes.

The reversal in import trade volumes, especially from Asia, is being blamed on the impact of the global recession, fuelled by weaker domestic consumer confidence.

The continued reduction in the construction sector here also contributed to a fall of 30% in volumes of breakbulk commodities - timber and steel.

Having seen growth of 10% over the first quarter of 2008, passenger volumes at peak periods of the year also declined. This resulted in an overall slip of 6% in both passenger and car traffic numbers due to the slowdown in the UK economy and the weaker sterling exchange rate.

IMDO Director Glenn Murphy said that the outlook for 2009 is equally as challenging. He said it will force many shipping operators to take further corrective measures to adjust shipping volumes to deal with weaker industrial and consumer demand this year.