Antwerp-Bruges Port Faces Economic Challenges Despite Record Investment Plans

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2023 was another challenging year for the Port of Antwerp-Bruges. Geopolitical tensions and slowing global economic growth are driving down industrial production and trade flows. As a result, total throughput, which was 271 million tonnes of cargo in 2023, is down 5.5% from the previous year. Despite this difficult context, thanks to the added value of the merger, the market share of the container segment increased compared to the other ports in the Hamburg – Le Havre range. To ensure its strategic role as a world port in the future, sustainable growth remains a priority and a major investment program is foreseen for the next 10 years, reports Port Of Antwerp Bruges.

Consequences

Weak global economic growth and lower demand for commodities are weighing on global demand for container transport. For the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, this corresponds to a decrease in container throughput of 5,9% in tonnes and 7.2% in TEUs, compared to 2022. In contrast, Port of Antwerp-Bruges’ market share in the Hamburg – Le Havre range rose 0.6% points to 30.2% in 2023.

Liquid bulk throughput is down 2.1% during 2023. Fuel throughput is up thanks to strong growth in diesel and paraffin while petrol and fuel oil are down. Naphtha throughput is down due to lower industry demand while LPG throughput is static. The chemical sector is under pressure across Europe due to high energy, raw material, and labor costs and low demand. This translates into a decrease in chemical throughput of 8.1%. Biofuel throughput is down and LNG also remains below last year’s levels when as much as possible was supplied amid an energy crisis.

The throughput volumes of conventional break bulk have normalized, after a strong post-Covid-19 recovery between spring 2021 and September 2022, to pre-Covid-19 levels. Compared to 2022, total throughput is down 18.8%. Due to a decline in European steel production and lower demand, the handling of steel, the main product group within conventional general cargo, fell by 16.9% with exports (-15.5%) holding up better than imports (-17.9%).

Total roll-on/roll-off traffic is holding up relatively well with a slight decrease of 2.1%. Transport equipment throughput (in units) is up thanks to an increase in the throughput of new cars. In 2023, 3.56 million new cars were handled, an annualized growth of 9.0%. The throughput of unaccompanied cargo (excluding containers) carried on RoRo vessels is also down slightly (-1.5%). More than half of these flows are related to the UK and are down (4.9%), while traffic related to Ireland is up sharply (+17.9%), while Scandinavian traffic is holding up.

The dry bulk segment is down 13.9% on last year. Demand for coal, which was high in 2022 due to the energy crisis, has since fallen sharply. Fertilizers, which were already down last year partly due to sanctions against Russia and increased fertilizer prices, are also down further this year.

Zeebrugge welcomed 169 cruise ships and 953.048 passenger movements in 2023, making 2023 a record year. A spread of cruises throughout the year and during the week ensured a staggered inflow.

In 2023 20.156 seagoing vessels were called at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, a drop of 4.2%. The total gross tonnage of these vessels grew by 2.6% to 657 million GT.

Investing in the future

As a world port and gateway to and from Europe, the Port of Antwerp-Bruges is a crucial link in the international logistics chain. Sustainable growth is therefore key. Not only by attracting investors but also by investing itself. Over the next ten years, the port, therefore, envisages an investment program worth €2.9 billion, including new infrastructure such as a quay wall for the Europa Terminal, a new coordination center, and residual land on the Left Bank.

In terms of both energy supply and energy transition, the port intends to continue to play its pioneering role in the future. For example, the Port of Antwerp-Bruges is actively promoting a circular economy with the implementation of the Warmtenet Antwerpen Noord project. The first heat delivery will soon take place, and further development of the NextGen District is planned for this year.

To meet the significant demand for renewable energy, the port is not only focusing on local solar and wind energy but is also strongly committed to importing green energy. Hydrogen acts as a key element, serving as an energy carrier, raw material for industry, and fuel for shipping. This year the port will see the first bunkering of hydrogen and hydrogen carriers, such as methanol.

As part of the greening of the Port of Antwerp-Bruges fleet, two pioneering vessels will be introduced: the Methatug, the world’s first methanol-powered tug, and an electric RSD, a first for Europe. In addition, shore power is being further developed, with work starting on the shore power installation for the cruise terminal in Zeebrugge later this year. Finally, the port is working with industry on CO2 reduction through CO2 capture. Work on the CCS terminal is expected to start this year after the investment decision is taken soon.

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Source: Port Of Antwerp Bruges

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