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Port of Antwerp can withstand turbulent economic times

Monday 10/05/2021
Port of Antwerp

The Port of Antwerp saw a slight decline during COVID year 2020. The first quarter of 2021 sheds a hopeful light for improvement, despite Brexit and the continuing Corona crisis. An overview.

Container segment strongholds in difficult port year 2020

With a total throughput of 231 million tonnes, the port of Antwerp recorded a decline in 2020 for the first time in eight years. This is a drop of 3% compared to the record year 2019, when the port processed 238 million tonnes.

The bulk segments in particular clearly took a blow during the Corona year. The important liquid bulk segment (petroleum and fuels, chemicals, edible oils and fats, fruit juices) dropped by almost 8% from 72.5 to 69 million tons, a decrease to the level of 2016. The cause for this is the lowered demand for petroleum and fuels during this COVID year.

The important container segment, which accounts for about 60% of the total throughput, had started 2020 very strong, but experienced a sharp decline in March 2020 due to the first effects of the pandemic. The cascade of lockdowns, gripping one continent after another, severely disrupted global container traffic. The arrival of container ships with long delays created significant operational challenges that heavily impacted container terminal operations. The accumulated delays in the delivery of containers have created lasting operational challenges. Nevertheless, the Port Authority was pleased to announce that a strong autumn of 2020 had ultimately resulted in an increase of the container business by 0.2 million tonnes compared to the record year 2019. A hopeful sign.

231 million tons of cargo
Slight growth in containers

Cargo & Containers

Off to a good start during the first quarter of 2021

Despite the impact of the ongoing Corona crisis and Brexit, all goods flows - except for liquid bulk - were able to regain growth in the first quarter of 2021. Container throughput grew by 0,6% in the first 3 months of this year (in tonnes) and 2,3% (TEU) against the very strong Q1 2020.

The break bulk segment had a particularly strong quarter, mainly due to the remarkable growth (18,2%) in the throughput of iron and steel, the most important goods group in this segment. Ro-Ro remained stable compared to Q1 2020, in both new and second-hand vehicles.

Dry bulk transshipment grew by 6,7%. In addition to rising figures for non-ferrous ores and scrap metal, the throughput of fertilizers in particular spiked (+ 40,7%). Never before has such a large amount of fertilizers been handled in a single quarter in the past 10 years in Antwerp. Only the liquid bulk segment saw a decrease (-5%), which is mainly attributable to a persistently lower demand for crude oil.

Hopeful CEO of Port of Antwerp

The promising start of 2021 sheds a ray of optimism on business, but Port authorities remain vigilant and closely monitor the continuing operational challenges in container handling, as well as the consequences of the recent incident in the Suez Canal. In a press release, Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO of Port of Antwerp, confirms the upward figures, and feels that these are a confirmation of the port's resilience. He refers to the extent to which the port was able to deal with the various disruptions in the global Supply Chain in the past year. Clear signs of the Port’s agility and resilience, according to Vandermeiren, who especially praises the professionalism and efficiency of the Antwerp port community. He also stated that the worldwide spread over different sailing areas and the large storage capacity are the key ingredients for the success of the Antwerp port.

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Joël Wijns

Joël Wijns

Partner Business Consulting