Rotterdam still Europe’s top port despite Antwerp record

Rotterdam still Europe’s top port despite Antwerp record

The Port of Rotterdam handled 13.7 million TEU in 2017, an increase of 11 percent. Photo credit: Port of Rotterdam.

The strong recovery in Europe’s containerized imports during 2017 was reflected in the annual throughput of the continent’s two busiest hubs, with Rotterdam growing volume at double digits and Antwerp handling a record number of boxes.

Rotterdam handled 13.7 million TEU in 2017, an increase of 11 percent over the previous year as the top European port took its share of the North Europe container market to 31 percent, the highest it has been in almost two decades. Growth at Antwerp was not as impressive, and although the Belgian hub still grew its volume by 4.1 percent to 10.45 million TEU, the port experienced a 3.6 percent decline in Europe transhipment.

Port of Rotterdam Authority CEO Allard Castelein extolled the benefits of the container business to the port, a sector that took the overall cargo throughput to record levels. “The container sector is particularly important because it plays an essential role in creating added value such as employment in the port and the hinterland,” he said.

Volume at the Dutch hub was particularly strong in the second half of 2017, rising 12.4 percent compared with the last six months of 2016, with most of the growth from Asia, Latin America, and North America. The throughput of loaded containers increased by 12.1 percent, outstripping the rise in empty containers that grew by 6.1 percent.

Feeder volume rose sharply, rising 21 percent in TEU terms for all European shipping areas and in particular Scandinavia and the Baltic states. Short sea shipping was also up 10.2 percent with throughput rising strongly in services to and from the Mediterranean and again to the Scandinavia and the Baltic states. The growing Scandinavian volume could be related to the Gothenburg port dispute with shippers re-routing cargo through other North Europe hubs to avoid delays and using other modes to move containers to their destination.

Rotterdam’s hinterland volume also rose 6.3 percent, and the port said this growth and the increase in feeder volume further confirmed the strong position of the port in the networks of container shipping companies and major alliances.

In its forecast for 2018, Rotterdam is expecting container volume to continue increasing, although the throughput levels will not be as large as those of 2017. But the strong growth has supported heavy spending on infrastructure in and around the port, with $266.92 million invested last year.

The port authority expects to maintain the high level of investment in 2018 that will go towards projects such as the development of the Hartel Tank Terminal and changes to the port railway via Thamesweg, eliminating the clash between transport by rail and ocean-going vessels.

The Port of Antwerp is also investing in infrastructure to stay ahead of future growth. “In the coming years we expect further growth in the container volume, and so in 2018 we will continue to work hard on providing additional container handling capacity in Antwerp,” said Antwerp Port Authority CEO Jacques Vandermeiren.

Volume through Antwerp also rose strongly in the second half, but the last quarter of 2017 saw growth of 7 percent compared with the last quarter of the previous year. There was solid growth in the port’s trade routes, led by North America, which was up 11.6 percent. As with Rotterdam, the United States performed particularly well as a trading partner with 9.7 percent overall growth in the volume of laden containers, with container imports being up by as much as 10.4 percent.

Rotterdam and Antwerp are struggling to cope with persistent barge congestion, especially at peak periods. Barges account for more than 40 percent of Antwerp’s inland cargo movements and 45 percent of Rotterdam’s hinterland traffic. Terminal operators and the port authorities are trying to improve the situation and several initiatives are being funded, but it appears little progress is being made.

Inland waterways account for an increasing volume of Europe’s hinterland traffic, including containers, due to a shortage of rail capacity and moves by governments to reduce transport by road for environmental reasons.

Contact Greg Knowler at greg.knowler@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @greg_knowler.