2021 was another year full of challenges for the port of Antwerp. But despite disruptions in the global supply chain, Port of Antwerp performed strongly, matching the record year of 2019. Total cargo throughput in 2021 was 240 million tons; a growth of 3.8% compared to 2020 and slight growth compared to 2019. 2022 promises to be an exciting year, with the merger with Port of Zeebrugge and important milestones for numerous pioneering projects, despite the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Growth figures thanks to continued resilience
Global containerised liner shipping is still highly disrupted, causing irregular calls from ocean-going vessels and ports to be missed out in the rotation. As a result, average call sizes are getting higher and higher and there are ever-increasing peaks in call sizes. This represents a major challenge for the entire logistics chain in and around the port. In addition, the shortage of port labour, mainly due to COVID-19 and federal measures to combat the virus, also played a role. Container traffic, despite these difficult conditions, held steady in 2021 with a status quo of 12,02 million TEU (-0.1%).
Conventional breakbulk grew by a whopping 73.6%. In 2021, the segment experienced its highest throughput in the past 10 years, achieving throughput of 11,5 million tons. The main reason for this is the strong throughput of steel (+81%), the most important product group within this segment. RoRo throughput grew 13.9% in tons compared to 2020. The number of vehicles, both new and used, also showed growth compared to 2020 (+8%), but is still 15% below the 2019 level.
Dry bulk throughput increased by 15.1% in 2021. Fertilisers in particular did very well recording the highest throughput in 10 years due to price developments. Liquid bulk numbers grew in line with previous years, expanding this past year by 3.1%. The strong increase in gasoline throughput offset the sharp decline in diesel and fuel oil throughput. The throughput of chemicals had its best year ever, ending at +12.9%.
As a result of the logistical and administrative challenges caused by Brexit, the flow of goods between the EU and the UK decreased. Despite this, the port of Antwerp recorded growth in total throughput of 6.0% with the UK and 14.6% with Ireland compared to 2020, mainly due to the extensive shortsea connections.
The number of reefer containers increased by 2.6% in 2021 compared to the same period last year. This is partly due to increased demand and on the other hand due to the strong maritime position in the shipping areas of Latin America, Africa and the United States.
Continuing to pioneer
In 2022, in addition to resilience, the focus remains on the strategic priorities of purposeful transition and sustainable growth. Essential steps forward will be made here in the coming year. The program includes the delivery of the first methanol-powered tug, the methatug. It will be an important year for the NextGen District, the future hotspot for the circular economy in the heart of the port. The first concessionaires have now officially signed and we will proceed with the practical implementation in the coming months.
Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO of Port of Antwerp: “Port of Antwerp seeks to reaffirm its pioneering role in the transition to climate neutrality in 2022. Thanks to pioneering lighthouse projects, such as the hydrogen import coalition and Antwerp@C/Kairos@C, for the capture and storage of CO2, we can live up to this role and accelerate the transition. In addition, the sustainable growth of our port remains an absolute priority. We therefore hope that we will soon receive the permit for the renewal of the Europa terminal so that we can start the works.”
Annick De Ridder, chairman of the board of directors of Port of Antwerp and Antwerp Alderman responsible for the port: “The port of the future must be one that fully understands and endorses the climate ambitions and environmental objectives. To this end, 2021 saw many, mainly major, steps taken, always embedded in fruitful collaborations, even beyond our borders. For the port of Antwerp, 2021 was certainly also the year of 'smart security'. Innovation and digitalisation are crucial to ensuring the sustainable growth of our port in the long term."
Approval of merger with Port of Zeebrugge
2022 is all about the merger with the port of Zeebrugge. An important milestone is the approval earlier this week from the Belgian Competition Authority (BCA). All the formal steps will be taken to finalise the merger in the coming months. The official launch date for Port of Antwerp-Bruges is at the end of April.
Annick De Ridder, chairman of the board of directors of Port of Antwerp and Antwerp Alderman responsible for the port: "The ongoing COVID crisis, the many outstanding vacancies, the Suez incident and the associated global disruptions made 2021 another challenging year for our port. Thanks to the dedication and resilience of the entire port platform, we not only weathered these storms, we even managed to return to the record year of 2019. Moreover, with the approval of the BMA, the merger with the port of Zeebrugge has set the final straight. Together, we can focus even more on the transition to a low-carbon economy and on the further digitalisation of the logistics chain."
Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO of Port of Antwerp: “Despite the strong performance, 2021 was not an easy year for our port. Thanks to the resilience and world-renowned qualities of our port community, we have returned to the 2019 pre-COVID-19 year after barely a year. However, there continue to be important areas of concern. Short-term labour availability in this challenging sanitation situation. In the longer term, the nitrogen matter, the achievement of much-needed additional container capacity, and the energy transition will be great challenges. That is why the historic agreement of the merger with the port of Zeebrugge is visionary. Together, we are stronger to face the challenges of the future."