By Theo Notteboom
With a total maritime container throughput of an estimated 101.5 million TEU in 2014, the European container port system crossed the 100 million TEU mark for the first time ever. Growth was particularly strong in the period 2005- 2007, with an average annual growth rate of 10.5%, compared to 6.8% in the period 1985-1995, 8.9% in 1995-2000 and 7.7% in 2000-2005.
The economic crisis, which started to have its full effect in late 2008, put an end to the steep growth curve. Total container throughput increased from 90.7 million TEU in 2008 to 101.5 million TEU in 2014, or an average annual growth of ‘only’ 1.89%. The year 2009 is at the root of this slow pace given a year-on-year drop in container volumes of about 14%. Between 2009 and 2014, traffic volumes have recovered at a rate of 5.4% per year.
The container ports in the Hamburg-Le Havre range (which includes all ports along the coastline between Le Havre in France and Hamburg in Germany) handle about half of the total European container throughput. The share of the Mediterranean ports grew significantly between the late 1980s and the late 1990s at the expense of the ports in the Hamburg-Le Havre range. The significant improvement the Mediterranean witnessed was mainly the result of the implementation of transhipment hubs in the region since the mid 1990s (Gioia Tauro, Marsaxlokk, Cagliari and Taranto, to name but a few).
At the start of the new millennium, the position of the northern range gradually improved while the Mediterranean ports and the UK port system lost ground. The crisis seems to have stopped this trend as from 2009 the traffic balance between the Med and the Hamburg-Le Havre range started to reverse, while the position of the UK ports (southeast and south coast only) started to improve.
The Baltic port region has clearly strengthened its traffic position in the past few years but saw a small decline of its share in 2014. The strong growth path of European ports in the Black Sea area (Romania and Bulgaria) suddenly stopped in the crisis year of 2009.
Read Theo’s analysis on The European container system in 2014, published in Port Technology International, Issue 67 @ PortEconomics.