By Theo Notteboom
Container port rankings look at individual ports. Following such an approach Shanghai is the largest container port in the world (35.28 million TEU in 2014) followed by Singapore (33.87 million TEU). Such rankings can be a bit misleading as regions with several medium-sized container ports might seem less important than regions with only one large load centre.
When grouping seaports together in multiple-port regions we get a better picture of the container port handling hotspots in the world. The chart provides an overview of the top 13 container port regions in the world. Not surprisingly, some of these regions are located near strategic passages in the global shipping network, such as the Malacca Straits, the Strait of Gibraltar or the Strait of Hormuz. Other key container turntables are located in a delta of a major river system: the Pearl River and Yangtze River in China, and the Rhine/Scheldt/Meuse and Elbe/Weser river systems in northern Europe.
The top 13 container port regions in the world handled 375 million TEU in 2014 or more than 55% of the world total. The Pearl River Delta is leading the ranking, but its growth has slowed down in the past few years. Chinese container port regions in the northeast (i.e. Bohai Rim and Shandong Bay ports handled more than 54 million TEU in 2014) and the Yangtze River Delta show spectacular growth. LA/Long Beach show the lowest growth compared to the year 2000. Only four regions outside Asia made it to the top 13. The first non-Asian port region in the ranking is the Rhine-Scheldt Delta (Belgium/the Netherlands) which was the world’s number one till the mid-1990s when south China took over the lead. South America, Africa, the Indian sub-continent and some mature economies such as Japan have no port regions in the ranking yet. Also port groups close to the Panama Canal (Balboa, Cristobal, etc..) or the Suez Canal (Damietta, Port Said, etc) did not make it to the top 13, but things can change quickly given the strong economic growth in some of these emerging economies and the new Panama Canal locks which will be open for business in 2016.