Irish Continental Group has reported higher revenues and operating profits for 2013.

It said the improving economic outlook in Ireland has encouraged it to invest in a new vessel on its Irish Sea routes.

ICG, which owns Irish Ferries, said its revenue for the year to the end of December rose by 3.4% to €264.7m from €256.1m. Operating profits for the year grew by over 13% to €30m from €26.5m.

The company said the number of passengers it carried last year rose by 1.6% to 1.568 million passengers while the number of cars using its services fell by 0.8% to 350,000.

Its Ro-Ro freight services saw an 11.8% jump to 205,300 units, while container freight units increased by 10.4% to 279,200.

ICG said it was proposing a final dividend of 67 cent, which makes a total dividend for the year of 100 cent.

Shares in the company ended the day 1.6% higher at €31.50 in Dublin trade today.

"2013 was a successful year for the group with a solid financial and operational performance in a competitive passenger and freight market place," commented ICG chairman John B McGuckian.

"The improving economic outlook in Ireland has encouraged us in our recently announced investment in the charter of an additional vessel, the Epsilon, which has been trading since mid December. RoRo freight volumes are up 18% year on year, to date, despite adverse weather conditions which have led to cancelled sailings," he added.

ICG said that revenues in its ferries division rose by 1.1% to €161.7m, while operating profits rose to €24.9m from €22.4m. The increase in profit was due to increased freight revenue and lower fuel costs, which fell by almost 9% during the year. 

The company said its business was boosted by the start of a recovery in demand in the UK market for Ireland as a tourism destination, as overall tourism numbers from the UK grew slightly after four years of serious decline. 

Revenues in ICG's container and terminal division rose to 4104.3m from €97.4m in 2012. Operating profits jumped by over 24% to €5.1m due to increased volumes and lower fuel costs, which will partially offset by reduced average yields and higher charter costs. 

ICG said in its results statement today that the "unprecedented adverse weather" had resulted in a significant number of cancelled sailings - 16% of budgeted sailings - so far this year. This has resulted in some loss of discretionary passenger business and a disruption to freight business.

However, it added that the additional capacity provided by the new ferry Epsilon has helped to counter the effect of the lost sailings and car carryings, so far this year, are flat while RoRo freight volumes are up about 18%.

"The improved economic backdrop which we have experienced over the last 12 months looks likely to continue through 2014. However the impact on our business during 2013 has been mixed with the sea passenger market remaining flat while there has been a return to growth in the freight market," the company said. 

"We would expect the continued improving outlook to have a positive impact on both strands of our business, passenger and freight, and, with our additional vessel capacity in place, we are well positioned to capitalise on this improved economic environment," its results statement concluded.