Port performance measurement covers a wide array of key performance indicators (KPIs) related to supply chain performance, productivity, connectivity, sustainability/energy transition, corporate social responsibility (CSR), financial performance, customer satisfaction, innovation and economic impact. Still, it remains relevant to observe how cargo volumes have evolved over time, as cargo flows and related activities remain the bread and butter of port authorities and terminal operators. The table shows the 2020 container throughput in TEU for the top 15 European containers ports as well as the year-on-year growth figures for 2020 and the first half of 2020; the growth during financial crisis year 2009 and overall TEU growth between pre-crisis year 2007 and 2020. Note that the figures for Felixstowe are for the year 2019 as UK port figures for 2020 were not available at the time of writing.
Top 15 ports handled 76.8 million TEU in 2020, minus 2.8% compared to 2019
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 ports combined handled 76.8 million TEU in 2020 or 2.8% less than in 2019. Almost all top 15 ports recorded a strong recovery in the second half of 2020 thereby reducing overall TEU losses for 2020. This was particularly the case for Le Havre (-29% for H1 2020 reduced to -14% for the entire year), Barcelona, Valencia, Hamburg and Genoa. Still, the vast majority of top 15 ports recorded negative growth figures in 2020.
Large growth differences among ports
Large differences can 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). Le Havre initially was heavily affected by the French national strike during December 2019 and January 2020. French Med port Marseille handled over 1.3 million TEU in 2020 or 10% below the 2019 box volume. 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. Genoa’s volume loss in 2020 was partly compensated by strong growth in the new Vado Ligure facility (+167% to reach 146,000 TEU).
Antwerp: only large gateway recording TEU growth in 2020
The port of Antwerp is the only large gateway port in Europe that was able to present positive growth figures (+1.4%). The other Belgian container port, Zeebrugge, handled 1.8 million TEU (+10.3%; 16th largest container port in Europe) resulting from the additional volume generated at the terminal of Cosco Shipping Ports. The port authorities of Antwerp and Zeebrugge have started a merger process to form Port of Antwerp-Bruges. Their combined volume of 13.8 million TEU in 2020 is only half a million below Rotterdam’s volume.
MSC effect in Gioia Tauro
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 Med hub moved from position 13 to position 9 in the ranking, but volumes are still below the 3.44 million TEU handled in 2007 (position 5 in Europe).
Rising stars Piraeus and Gdansk had to accept volume losses
The Cosco-owned Greek hub port of Piraeus and the port of Gdansk in Poland, two fast climbers in the European container port ranking, record negative growth figures for the first time in many years, i.e. -3.8% and -7% respectively. Piraeus keeps its 4th position in the ranking, although the TEU gap with Valencia has become negligable.
Mixed results in German port system
The German port system was not able to present growth figures: Bremerhaven was able to limit the damage to only -1.8% while Hamburg was again hit hard (-7.9%). The much smaller JadeWeserPort in Wilhelmshaven lost a hefty one-third of its container volume to end far below the 0.5 million TEU mark.
Portuguese port system going strong
Tanger Med widens TEU gap with Algeciras
None of the Portuguese ports made it to the top 15 despite positive results in most ports. 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. The small traffic decline in neighbouring Spanish transhipment hub Algeciras is in sharp contrast to the steep growth of 20% in Moroccan Tanger Med across the Straits of Gibraltar (5.8 million TEU in 2020).
Impact of COVID-19 vs. 2008-2009 financial crisis on individual ports
When comparing 2020 growth figures to 2009 growth figures, it becomes clear the two crises had in many cases a very different impact on container throughput development in the top 15 ports in Europe. Gioia Tauro and Antwerp were heavily affected by the financial-economic crisis which started in late 2008 (-17.6% and -15.6% in 2009 respectively) but are in a much stronger position during the COVID-19 crisis. Quite a few ports, such as Algeciras, Bremerhaven, Hamburg, St-Petersburg, Barcelona and Rotterdam, recorded much lower percentage losses in 2020 compared to 2008/2009. At the other end of the spectrum, the 2009 crisis did not temper the rise of container ports like Valencia, Piraeus (impact port reform) and Gdansk (start of DCT), while the same ports were negatively affected by the pandemic in 2020. Container volumes in Barcelona, Le Havre, Genoa and Hamburg seem to be very susceptible to crisis situations as they were hit hard in 2009 and again in 2020.
TEU evolution in period 2007-2020: clear winners and losers
The longer-term evolution of traffic volumes from pre-crisis year 2007 to 2020 shows several ports are still below 2007 volumes, i.e. Hamburg, Gioia Tauro and Bremerhaven. The traffic situation in the two German main ports is in sharp contrast to the strong growth observed in Antwerp (+47%) and Rotterdam (+33%) during the same period. In the Med, the 2007-2020 growth figures are the highest in Piraeus, Valencia and Algeciras, with Marsaxlokk and Genoa also showing healthy growth. Since 2007, the European port system has welcomed quite a few ‘newcomers’ on the deepsea container scene such as Piraeus, Gdansk, Sines, London Gateway, Koper, Trieste, Wilhelmshaven and Vado Ligure. A few other container ports (somewhat) lost their position as first-tier container ports, e.g. Constanza, Thamesport, Taranto and Cagliari.
© Theo Notteboom, 2 March 2021. Article brought to you by CEMIL (Centre for Eurasian Maritime & Inland Logistics) @ Shanghai Maritime University, China and PortEconomics.eu