Persistent economic instability affects quarterly figures for Port of Antwerp-Bruges

Persistent economic instability affects quarterly figures for Port of Antwerp-Bruges

Port of Antwerp-Bruges — 2023-10-24

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After nine months, Port of Antwerp-Bruges records a total freight throughput of 204.4 m tons, a decrease of 6% compared to the same period last year. The still unstable geopolitical and economic conditions are causing lower demand for container transport worldwide, while other goods flows continue to show a mixed picture. Thanks to the strong international position of our unified port, for which sustainable growth remains a priority, the market share of the container segment is increasing compared to the other ports in the Hamburg - Le Havre range.

The eurozone economy is under pressure due to sharply increased interest rates. Despite the decline in energy prices, the global economic situation remains unstable and future indicators point to a further economic downturn. As a result of this uncertain economic environment, containerized trade flows are declining worldwide. For Port of Antwerp-Bruges, this results in a decrease in container throughput of 6.5% in tonnes and 6.8% in TEU, compared to the same period in 2022. Despite the declining container throughput, Port of Antwerp-Bruges' market share increased Bruges in the Hamburg – Le Havre range increased by 1 percentage point to 30.6% in the first half of this year.

Conventional general cargo is holding up relatively well despite the weak economic climate, with transhipment volumes in line with the pre-Covid period. Compared to the same period in 2022, which was characterized by a strong post-covid recovery, throughput decreased by 18.6%. Due to a decrease in European steel production and lower demand, the transshipment of steel, the most important commodity group within this segment, decreased by 17.6%. 

The dry bulk segment decreased by 14.6% . The throughput of fertilizers, the largest product group within dry bulk, fell by 24.2% after nine months, but has shown an increasing trend since the summer that is expected to continue in the last quarter.
Compared to the peak in 2022, coal transhipment is now down (-36%). On the other hand, the throughput of sand and gravel is growing by 7.4%, while the volumes of iron ore, scrap and non-ferrous ores are declining by 70%, 5% and 2% respectively.

The liquid bulk segment shows a decrease of 2.9%. The throughput of liquid fuels grew by 8.7% thanks to a strong growth of 42.7% in the throughput of diesel, compared to a decrease in the throughput of petrol (-3.7%) and naphtha (-22.7%) . LNG throughput (-6.7%) is also declining. Although the discharge of chemicals increases by 5.4%, a decrease in the supply (-18.3%) causes a decrease in the total reporting of chemicals by 11.5%. The competitiveness of the chemical sector in Europe is under pressure due to high energy, raw material and labor costs in combination with low global demand

The  roll-on/roll-off traffic remains status quo (-0.9%). The transhipment of transport material is growing by 8.9% thanks to the growth in the transshipment of new cars (+12.6%) to 2.67 m units. In addition to transport equipment, 7 m tons of unaccompanied cargo (excluding containers) were also handled on RoRo ships (-1.4%). The part of this that is related to Ireland increases by 18.5%, while the traffic to and from the United Kingdom decreases (-3.8%).

In the first 9 months of 2023, Zeebrugge welcomed 133 cruise ships and 351,000 passengers. With these numbers it promises to be a record year, because the autumn and winter months are traditionally busier cruise months than the summer season.

In the first nine months, 15,316 seagoing vessels called at Port of Antwerp-Bruges, a decrease of 3.5%. The total gross tonnage of these vessels increased by 4.4% to 496.3 m GT.

Seagoing and inland vessels make more than 300,000 movements in the port annually. This concerns ships that arrive, depart, move within the port or simply continue sailing. Thanks to an extensive network of radars and cameras, Port of Antwerp-Bruges can continuously monitor these ship movements and therefore closely monitor shipping and manage the waterways and berths efficiently and safely.

Future-proof world port on the way to climate neutrality

In order to consolidate its position as a world port, the largest container ships must also be able to continue calling at the port in the future. This requires an ascending draft of 16 meters. In October, a depth record was broken in Deurganckdok with the MSC Tessa. By increasing the draft, the loading capacity of the ships is significantly increased. 

The port is also taking a pioneering role with an ambitious climate plan to become climate neutral by 2050. In addition to greening its own fleet , Port of Antwerp-Bruges collaborates with companies in the sector on a wide range of diverse solutions and projects that are essential for climate neutrality, such as the import of hydrogen and CCUS (Carbon Capture, Usage & Storage), or the capture and transport of CO 2 for which the Fluxys C-Grid joint venture  was launched in September.

Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO Port of Antwerp-Bruges: “We have seen the persistent economic and geopolitical concerns in the figures for several quarters. The competitiveness of European industry is under pressure due to high energy, raw material and labor costs in combination with low global demand. The indicators do not show any improvement in the near future and container throughput will still be affected in the fourth quarter by canceled sailings from the Far East. Even though our throughput decreases less than the average in the Hamburg-Le Havre range and we gain market share, we will have to accept that 2023 will not be a top year.”

Annick De Ridder, port alderman of the City of Antwerp and chairman of the board of directors of Port of Antwerp-Bruges: “Our port is the economic engine of Flanders. That engine has held up well despite a difficult economic situation thanks to all the strong employees who give the best of themselves. As a result, the market share of Port of Antwerp-Bruges even increased in the Hamburg – Le Havre Range. The recently broken depth record is important for future growth and proves that we are the first port of call accessible to the very largest ships in service.”

Dirk De fauw, mayor of the city of Bruges and vice-chairman of Port of Antwerp-Bruges:  “Worldwide, the economy, and by extension also the ports, is confronted with disappointing results. But I am confident that thanks to the two complementary platforms we can demonstrate our resilience and continue to strengthen our strong position in the international logistics chain. However, a future-proof world port goes further than traditional cargo handling. That is why we are taking a leading role in the transition to a circular economy, both within our own organization, on the port platform and beyond through an ambitious climate plan to be climate neutral by 2050.”