Antwerp and Bruges become Europe’s largest export port


Together, the ports of Antwerp and Bruges are leaders in export, RoRo, natural gas, bulk liquid and containers (Antwerp stock photo).

Published 04/28/2022 17:34 by

The Maritime Executive







The Belgian cities of Antwerp and Bruges have completed the merger of their port companies, creating what they claim to be the largest export port in Europe. The newly created port of Antwerp-Bruges aims to use the strengths of the neighboring ports in RoRo, chemical and container traffic to also prepare for future changes in the shipping industry and to cope with short-term challenges arising from the EU sanctions on Russia and the ongoing ones effects of the pandemic.


The new port company describes the activities of the two ports as “largely complementary” and refers to Antwerp’s strengths in the handling and storage of containers, general cargo and chemical products. The modern port of Bruges, Zeebrugge is a major port for RoRo traffic, container handling and liquid natural gas handling. Together, the two port locations handle 289 million tons of ocean freight traffic annually, with the largest share being in containers, followed by bulk liquids. In 2021, the ports handled 14.2 million TEU, just second to Rotterdam, Europe’s largest container port, which handled 15.3 million TEU last year.


“The combined port is not only the economic engine of Flanders, but together the ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge will also form the largest export port, the largest transshipment port for vehicles and the leading chemical center in Europe,” said Annick De Ridder, Deputy Mayor of the City of Antwerp and Chairman of the Board of the port of Antwerp-Bruges “At the same time, the port of Antwerp-Bruges has great ambitions to become the energy gateway to Europe as a ‘green port’. ”


The past year has been a challenging one for the ports as officials recently said EU sanctions on Russia would also affect operations. While Antwerp saw a small increase in tonnage in 2021, it was broadly at 2019 levels and saw a slight decrease in container volumes for the year. In 2021, Russia was Antwerp’s fifth most important trading partner with throughput of 11.6 million tons. While Russian-flagged ships accounted for less than one percent of calls in 2021, port officials predicted the sanctions would reduce volumes by four to five percent.


After years of discussions, the city of Antwerp and the city of Bruges announced in February 2021 the official start of the merger process for their ports. City leaders finalized the agreement on April 22, stating that the Port of Antwerp-Bruges aims to become the first global port that balances economy, people and climate. The unified port wants to further strengthen its position in the international logistics chain and play a leading role in the energy and digital transition.


By focusing on strengthening interconnectivity between the Antwerp and Bruges sites, the ports aim to achieve economies of scale that will help in emerging areas such as digitization and building the infrastructure to support the transition to green operations, including what they call Pioneering role in hydrogen and CO2 reuse. In the short term, they have initiatives underway including a project for additional container capacity in Antwerp, as well as developing a container plan to service the ports by 2030. Elsewhere, the Port of Antwerp-Bruges continues to invest in strategic infrastructure, including the Europa Terminal in Antwerp, as well as a new lock and the Maritime Logistics Zone in Zeebrugge.


They also want to leverage the ports’ position as the second largest petrochemical cluster in the world to become a hub for green energy and help shape the energy transition towards a sustainable future. The unified port will continue and expand its carbon capture, storage and reuse project and says the first 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 from industry will be captured at the port by 2025. This CO2 is stored and eventually reused as raw material for a variety of applications.


By 2028, the port of Antwerp-Bruges aims to have the capacity to host the first green hydrogen molecules on its platform. In order to achieve this goal, it is working on expanding the terminal capacities for existing and new hydrogen tankers at both port locations. They are also planning a hydrogen pipeline between the two locations, which will be used to supply Europe with energy.





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