Double Record set by Antwerp Port
The port of Antwerp is on course to handle more than 200 million tonnes of freight this year for the first time ever. And in container transhipment too a new record has been set, with more than 9 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units, i.e. standard containers) being handled. In comparison with last year nearly 8% more containers will be transhipped. With these growth figures Antwerp is performing significantly better than Rotterdam and Hamburg, the number 1 and 3 ports respectively in North-West Europe.
From zero to 200 million tonnes
The port of Antwerp has a particularly rich history. Ever since the Middle Ages ships laden with cargo and passengers have found their way up the river Scheldt to Antwerp. After the “Golden Century” in which Antwerp grew into a prosperous international port, the closure of the Scheldt in 1585 represented a new low in its history. It would be nearly 300 years until the toll on the Scheldt could be finally redeemed in 1863 and the river became fully open to commercial traffic once more. The port on the Scheldt began to flourish in the decades that followed. After the Second World War, the Marshall Plan and the Belgian government’s Ten Year Plan brought hitherto unseen growth: the volume of the docks doubled and the port expanded along the Right bank of the Scheldt right up to the Dutch border.
From 1960 onwards the port activities were revolutionised by a number of radical new developments both in transport and in the handling of goods. The standardised load and the container both made their appearance. Freight handling was increasingly mechanised, and the age of the specialised terminal had arrived. In the chemical industry investments followed rapidly one after the other, laying the basis for the growth of the oil industry. From the 1970s onwards the port also started to expand on the Left bank of the Scheldt.
In the 1990s globalisation of the world economy became a fact. The internationalisation of port companies, the increasing degree of monopolisation in container handling and the ever-larger size of ships were clear expressions of this. The unstoppable rise of the container played a fundamental role in the spectacular growth in the volume of freight, with the container volume alone quadrupling. These rapid developments clearly illustrated the vital necessity of deepening the Scheldt and building terminals on the river.
From then on it all went very quickly. From 2004 to 2015 the freight volume expanded by 50 million tonnes, thus confirming Antwerp’s position as the second-largest port in Europe. The third round of deepening of the Scheldt quickly brought results, with the record for the largest container carrier ever to visit the port being regularly broken. The conversion of former breakbulk sites into tank storage sites also paid off, with the volume of liquid bulk handled in the port growing rapidly.
And then …
There has been a huge amount of investment in the port of Antwerp over the past decade, not only by private companies at national and international level but also by public bodies. Wise investment brings rewarding results, not least for the government which seeks to make the best use of the public funds at its disposal. The figures are there for all to see: with added value of nearly 10 billion euros and creating direct and indirect employment for more than 150,000 people Antwerp offers the Flemish government a high return on investment.
In a landscape dominated by fierce competition, the port of Antwerp has to keep looking ahead and investing in the future. Only in this way can the port keep growing and ensure that the engine of our economy does not falter. According to current forecasts Antwerp will need new container handling capacity by 2020-2021, and so the Port Authority is making urgent preparations for the first phase of a new tidal dock with associated terminal capacity on the Left bank of the Scheldt.