ANTWERP SETS RECORD FOR CARGO IN 1997 GAIN CONSOLIDATES SPOT BEHIND NO. 1 ROTTERDAM

ANTWERP SETS RECORD FOR CARGO IN 1997 GAIN CONSOLIDATES SPOT BEHIND NO. 1 ROTTERDAM

Antwerp announced this week record cargo traffic in 1997 and claimed the title of the fastest growing major containerport in Europe for the fourth year running.

Total traffic reached 111.895 million metric tons, a gain of 5 percent on the 106.526 million metric tons handled the previous year, consolidating Antwerp's position as Europe's second-largest port after Rotterdam.The number of vessels calling at the Belgian port increased by 444, to 15,861.

General cargo traffic rose by 8 percent, to 56.44 million metric tons, while bulk traffic was only 2 percent higher, at 55.45 million metric tons.

The port authority said containers performed best, surging by 12 percent, or the equivalent of 300,000 20-foot units (TEUs), to 2.97 million TEUs.

The gain enabled Antwerp to outpace its two key ''box'' rivals, Rotterdam and Hamburg, for the fourth consecutive year, and helped to squash claims that its river location is hampering growth as container vessels increase in size.

Antwerp's position was strengthened last week when the regional government of Flanders approved plans to build a $400 million container complex beyond the port locks.

Antwerp also strengthened its position as Europe's main port for several breakbulk commodities, including paper and pulp and fruit, which rose by nearly 10 percent to scale new records of 4.16 million metric tons and 1.72 million metric tons, respectively.

Imports of crude oil surged by 22 percent, to 7.66 million metric tons, while oil derivatives were up only 1 percent, to 16.56 million metric tons.

An unexpected black spot was an Antwerp speciality - iron and steel products - which slumped by 9 percent, to 8.97 million metric tons.

Iron ore traffic was also lower, falling 14 percent, or 1.3 million metric tons, to 8.2 million metric tons. This reflected the gradual conversion by the European steel industry from using imported iron ore to locally produced scrap iron.

Coal, a strong performer in Rotterdam last year, was down 4 percent, to 7.4 million metric tons.