Freight News, Sea

At the stroke of a pen, Belgians create Europe’s largest box port

[ February 12, 2021   //   ]

The ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge have announced a merger that will create Europe’s largest container port by tonnage, handling 157 million tonnes a year – Port of Antwerp-Bruges. It will be the 13th largest port in the world in TEU terms, one of the largest break bulk ports and the largest port for the transhipment of vehicles in Europe.

The two ports are about 50 miles apart, as the crow flies, although the port of Terneuzen, in a Dutch enclave, lies between them. Rotterdam is about 40 miles the Netherlands’ second largest port of Amsterdam (Ijmuiden).

The two-city agreement marks the start of a unification process that is expected to take a year to finalise.

The two ports said their ambition was: “To become the world’s first port that reconciles economy, people and climate” and create added value for the surrounding areas of Antwerp and Zeebrugge, for customers and stakeholders, as well as for the rest of Flanders.

They added that Antwerp and Zeebrugge “are largely complementary”. Antwerp specialises in containers, break bulk and chemical products, while Zeebrugge is a major port for ro ro traffic, container handling and liquid natural gas.

The two hubs will seek to ‘bundle’ rail, inland waterway and pipeline connections between them.

Committed strategic investments, such as the new sea lock in Zeebrugge and the additional container capacity in Antwerp, will go ahead. Future investments will however be evaluated from a unified operational perspective.

Port alderman and chair of the board of directors of the Antwerp Port Authority, Annick De Ridder, said: “By joining forces, we are on the way to becoming Europe’s global port, while at the same time reinforcing our position as the most important container port in terms of tonnage, a solid ro ro port and one of the largest break bulk ports in Europe. This will make us even more attractive to our existing customers, to new investors and to all other potential stakeholders and we will undisputedly be the main driver of Flanders’ economy.

“Our ambition to bring the two ports together is about much more than simply tonnage and TEUs, however. It will enable us to focus even more firmly on the transition towards a low-carbon economy and to continue our efforts regarding the digitalisation of the supply chain. The ports of Zeebrugge and Antwerp are to a large extent complementary and working together will make us more resilient to external challenges.”

Mayor of Bruges and chair of Zeebrugge Port Authority, Dirk De fauw, added: “We are looking forward to join forces with the port of Antwerp and, by doing so, to strengthen our position as the most important gateway to Europe. Zeebrugge is the world’s largest automotive hub, a leading ro ro port and an experienced, state-of-the-art natural gas hub.

“By combining our own strengths with the qualities offered by Antwerp, we will be able to do more and do it better. We will achieve this in the interests of and in consideration of our shared port operations, our city and our region. We will strengthen our joint economic and international position, while simultaneously creating added value for society in general.”

In a statement, the rival Port of Rotterdam said: “We wish them success on their chosen path, which – at a first glance – seems logical. The two ports are complementary and can mean a lot for one another. At the same time, this development can be helpful in furthering the co-operation between West-European ports in certain areas, for example in the field of sustainability and accessibility. Given its strong position as Europe’s biggest port, given the quality of its industrial complex and its strategy to further strengthen this position, the Port of Rotterdam looks to the future with confidence.”