The port of Antwerp in 2012

The outlined developments in the world economy have a direct influence on world trade and thus also on the freight volumes handled in the various seaports. It therefore follows logically that the growth of freight volumes in Antwerp will be generally higher than the expected growth percentage for the Belgian economy as a whole.

Given the international situation, 2012 was certainly not a good year for the port of Antwerp. And yet the port stood up to the challenges fairly well, certainly in comparison with some of the main competitors in North-West Europe. One important observation is that the number of seagoing ships calling at the port fell by 4.5% in comparison with 2011. On the other hand the number of calls by ships of 10,000 TEU or more rose from 141 in 2011 to 167 in 2012, demonstrating that the upward trend in the size of ships is continuing and that Antwerp is reaping the benefits of the deepening of the river Scheldt.

Europe is the main trading partner for Antwerp, accounting for about 35% of the tonnage handled in the port. North and Central America for its part is the origin or destination of 18% of the cargo. The Near East accounts for a share of 15% and the Far East 14% of cargo loaded or unloaded in the port of Antwerp.

The volume of maritime freight handled in Antwerp amounted to 184.1 million tonnes, with 94.6 million tonnes unloaded and 89.5 million tonnes loaded in the harbour. This total was 1.6% less than in 2011. However, Antwerp is still the second-largest port in Europe, after Rotterdam (441.5 million tonnes) and before Hamburg (130.9 million tonnes). Last year Rotterdam gained 1.6% in cargo volume while Hamburg lost about 1%. Other ports in Europe lost substantial ground, like Le Havre (down 11.9%) and Zeebrugge (down 7.3%).

As regards the different forms of cargo, containers were by far the largest category, making up 56.5% of the total freight volume in Antwerp. At 8,635,169 TEU the container volume in Antwerp remained at practically the same level as the previous year (down only 0.3%). Expressed in tonnes the volume was down by 1.0% to 104.1 million tonnes. In terms of tonnage Antwerp is the second-largest port after Rotterdam. In terms of TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units, i.e. standard containers) Antwerp comes in third place after Rotterdam. Here it should be noted that the level of international container transport is largely determined by the level of trade, and thus the development in Antwerp is in line with changes in the European and Belgian economy. Since a rise in the volume of world trade is expected, this should lead to an increase in the number of containers handled in Antwerp.

The volume of bulk freight fell in 2012 by 1.1% to 64.4 million tonnes, representing 35% of the total volume handled. Liquid bulk for its part was down 1.6% from its record level in 2011, at 45.3 million tonnes. This development was largely due to the decline in volumes of chemicals (down 8.2%) which was not compensated by the rise in volume of imports and exports of oil derivatives (up 7.2%). Dry bulk remained at the same level as the previous year (up by just 0.1%), with 19.1 million tonnes of goods handled. This performance puts Antwerp in third place for bulk handling, after Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

In the conventional breakbulk segment a volume of 10.9 million tonnes was loaded or unloaded. This is 14.2% less than in the previous year, which means that the share of the total freight volume represented by this category has fallen to 5.9%. This result is largely due to the lower volume of steel handled (down 19.2% to 6.8 million tonnes), reflecting the current market conditions. The fruit volume declined by 3.2% to 1.3 million tonnes, whereas paper and cellulose shot up by 17.4% and finished at 895,593 tonnes. Despite these developments Antwerp remains the European market leader for steel and fruit and the market leader for handling of conventional breakbulk, ahead of Zeeland Seaports, Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Ro/ro freight, finally, rose by 13% to 4.8 million tonnes. The number of cars handled in 2012 amounted to 1.2 million, an increase of 14.8%.