During the first six months of 2021, 120 million tonnes were transhipped through the Port of Antwerp, an increase of 5% compared with the same period last year, despite the impact of the ongoing pandemic. Transhipments with the UK and Ireland also show positive figures; the expanded shortsea connections in response to Brexit are proving effective.
Containers are the only cargo type that has continuously grown since 2014, up by 4.3% in the first half of the year compared to 2020, and by 3.9% compared to 2019 (in tonnes). Conventional breakbulk has grown by 41.2% compared to 2020 and equals the throughput of the first 6 months of 2019. The throughput of iron and steel, the main goods group in this segment, increased by 37.8% due to a peak in the supply of steel. RoRo also did very well in 2021 and increased by 22% compared to the first half of 2020.
Dry bulk transhipment increased by 7.5% but there are fluctuations because some products, such as fertilisers, are seasonal. Liquid bulk grew slightly by 1.2% compared to 2020 but decreased by 6.1% compared to 2019. In May, the volume of fuels was the highest since October last year, while the transhipment of chemicals increased by 8.9% compared to 2020. Demand for chemicals is booming globally due to the recovery in industrial production and is exceeding pre-pandemic levels.
Brexit: growth in declining market
With an annual cargo flow of around 15 million tonnes, the UK is the third-largest maritime trading partner for the Port of Antwerp. The start of Brexit at the beginning of this year therefore created major challenges due to increased administrative complexities and more controls, which resulted in congestion, longer transit times and higher costs. As a result, the flow of goods between the EU and the UK is decreasing. Despite these difficult conditions, however, the Port of Antwerp recorded growth in total throughput of 11.1% with the UK and 12.1% with Ireland in the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2020.
In preparation for Brexit, Port of Antwerp put all its efforts into further expanding short sea connections with the UK and Ireland in order to achieve the modal shift from ferry to container transport. Five years after the Brexit referendum, the port of Antwerp is now connected with 12 British and Irish ports. In fact, Irish importers and exporters are increasingly abandoning the land bridge over the UK and are instead opting for a direct maritime connection. This way, cargo remains within the European Union and British customs formalities and duties are bypassed. For example, Eucon, an Irish shipper, has expanded its shortsea sailings from Antwerp to Ireland with an additional ship, mainly between Antwerp and Dublin.
Step towards CO2 reduction
The Antwerp@C consortium is taking important steps forward in the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon port. The feasibility studies have been completed and the consortium is preparing to enter the design phase. The project, an initiative by Air Liquide, BASF, Borealis, ExxonMobil, INEOS, TotalEnergies, Fluxys and Port of Antwerp, has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions in the Port of Antwerp by half by 2030. It will do this by capturing CO2 and using it or storing it permanently.
Serge Amorgaste, Sales Manager at Eucon, said: “The strategic location of Antwerp and the reliability and flexibility of the network offered from and to Antwerp, ensure the right transit time to meet the growing demand of our customers. Multimodal transport is the right tool for this door-to-door concept.”
Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO Port of Antwerp: “We knew that Brexit would have major consequences for the transport of goods between Europe and the UK. By preparing ourselves well and focusing on short sea connections and LoLo cargo, we can convert the challenges into opportunities. The positive half-year figures for transhipment with the UK and Ireland confirm this. After Brexit, Antwerp wants more than ever to be the gateway between Europe and the UK and Ireland.”
Annick De Ridder, Port Alderman: “Despite the difficult circumstances in which we started 2021, we can show that the port is holding its own and is once again even recording growth in container handling. The economic urgency for extra container capacity is clearly demonstrated, more than ever. The figures are a confirmation of the resilience of our port and of the flexibility of all employees who ensure that everything keeps running.”