The vast majority of top 15 ports recorded container volume losses in 2020
The table shows the container throughput in TEU for the first nine months of 2021 in the top 15 containers ports in the European Union, the year-on-year growth figures for 2020 and 2009, and overall TEU growth between pre-crisis year 2007 and 2020. While the Coronavirus emerged in China in December 2019, its impact on European ports only started to be visible in March 2020. The top 15 EU ports combined handled 74.3 million TEU in 2020. Almost all top 15 ports recorded a strong recovery in the second half of 2020 thereby reducing overall TEU losses for 2020. Still, the vast majority of top 15 ports recorded negative growth figures in 2020, although these losses were generally much smaller than during the financial crisis year 2009. Large differences could be observed with some ports such as Valencia, Algeciras and Bremerhaven recording a very modest decline, while others had to accept a double digit TEU drop (i.e. Le Havre, Barcelona, Marsaxlokk and Genoa). The port of Antwerp was the only top 10 gateway port in Europe which was able to present positive growth figures in 2020 (+1.4%). The other Belgian container port, Zeebrugge, handled 1.8 million TEU (+7.7%) resulting from the additional volume generated at the terminal of Cosco Shipping Ports. Gioia Tauro and Sines, both handling significant transhipment flows, also ended 2020 with positive growth figures. Mediterranean transhipment hub Gioia Tauro recorded a strong growth of about 27% as Terminal Investment Limited (TiL) became the full owner of Medcenter Container Terminal (“MCT”) at Gioia Tauro after it acquired the 50% stake from Contship Italia in the Summer of 2019. This move had its effects with more MSC container flows being directed via Gioia Tauro.
The first 9 months of 2021 brought strong growth in the lower half of the top 15 ranking. Ports that suffered double digit volume losses in 2020 rebounded strong, with Le Havre (+49%) and Barcelona (+30.5%) showing the strongest recovery. Le Havre initially was heavily affected by the French national strike during December 2019 and January 2020 and a drop in Asian cargo in H1 2020, but the French port recovered strongly during 2021, helped by congestion problems in other major North European hubs. The sharp decline in Barcelona in H1 2020 was largely attributable to a collapse of transit traffic. Import/export containerised cargo flows in the Catalan port were less impacted. In 2021, Barcelona strengthened its position in the sea-sea transhipment market while also welcoming more gateway cargo. Genoa recorded strong growth in the first three quarter of 2021, even though the nearby new Vado Ligure facility (managed by the same port system authority) captured some of its growth potential. The Cosco-owned Greek hub port of Piraeus and the port of Gdansk in Poland, two fast climbers in the European container port ranking, recorded negative growth figures in 2020, but only Gdansk was able to turn the tide in Q1-Q3 2021. Piraeus risks of losing its 4th position in the EU ranking to Valencia this year. The 6.1% traffic decline in neighbouring Spanish transhipment hub Algeciras is in sharp contrast to the steep growth of about 30% in Moroccan Tanger Med across the Straits of Gibraltar. The port of Sines, Portugal’s largest box port, handled 1.6 million TEU in 2020 (+13%) partly recovering from the 19% traffic decline in 2019. In the first nine months of this year, the Portuguese port added another 22.5% to its container traffic.
Different growth rhythms in German and Benelux ports
The German port system was not able to present positive growth figures in 2020: Bremerhaven was able to limit the damage to only -1.8% while Hamburg was again hit hard in 2020 (-7.9%). The former rebounded strongly during the first nine months of this year with a double digit growth, while Hamburg had to accept a modest 2.4% growth. The throughput gap between Rotterdam and Antwerp widened in Q1-Q3 2021, with Rotterdam outperforming Antwerp in TEU growth terms, despite the fact that both ports are struggling with the supply chain crisis. Port congestion issues in neighboring ports supported Zeebrugge’s massive growth. The port authorities of Antwerp and Zeebrugge are in a merger process to form Port of Antwerp-Bruges in 2022. At the current growth rates, their combined container traffic in 2021 will stay about 0.8 million TEU below Rotterdam’s volume.
© Theo Notteboom, 8 December 2021. Article brought to you by CEMIL (Centre for Maritime & Inland Logistics) and PortEconomics.eu