Port of Gdańsk compared to four largest container ports in Europe

2024/04/04 at 11:38 AM

Increasing geopolitical tensions, combined with greater market uncertainty, weaker global economic conditions and intense competition between ports, harmed the growth of containerised cargo in four major European ports in 2021-2023. In the longer term, i.e. in 1985-2023, they recorded a divergent trend.

Port of Gdańsk compared to four largest container ports in Europe
Source: Port of Gdańsk

The ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp-Bruges (Antwerp itself until 2021, later after the merger with Zeebrugge) achieved moderate positive average annual growth of 2.7 and 2.1 per cent respectively, according to the PortEconomics analysis. In turn, the two major German ports – Hamburg and Bremerhaven – recorded a slight decline in transhipment.

Who benefits, who loses?

The 1985-2008 years were characterised by high average growth of the four main ports in Europe, exceeding 9 per cent a year in Antwerp-Bruges and Hamburg, 7.7 per cent in Bremerhaven and 6.3 per cent in Rotterdam. Economic growth accelerated even at the beginning of the new millennium, partly due to the rise of China after its accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and a significant reduction in import tariffs on goods from the Middle Kingdom.

In turn, both German ports were particularly strongly affected by the financial and economic crisis of 2008-2009 and its consequences. “They turned out to be difficult for these ports to digest,” says the author of the analysis, Prof Theo Notteboom, co-director of PortEconomics. Both recorded a multi-year decline in transhipment in 2008-2021 by 0.8 and 0.6 per cent respectively, which was deepened by the Covid crisis and disruptions in supply chains in 2021-2023 (see table). As a result, in the long term, Hamburg and Bremerhaven each handled more containers (in TEU) in 2005 than in 2023.

However, the activity of the ports in Rotterdam and Antwerp-Bruges remained well above the level of 2005, despite declines in the transhipment of containerised goods in 2021-2023 by 6.3 and 6.2 per cent respectively.


The analysis does not provide reasons for such trends in the development of the four ports. “A more detailed analysis can provide greater insight into the underlying dynamics in terms of the changing cargo mix, the role of different shipping lines, the role of specific carriers and terminal operators, and the impact of general cargo containerisation,” the author emphasises. There are undoubtedly more of these factors. That’s why we’ve added our comment.

Gdańsk is benefiting

One of the reasons for the change in the development trend of the four largest ports in Europe is the increase in competition from smaller ports from the TOP-15 list. Particularly, the Port of Gdańsk proved to be a strong competitor to German ports, rising to 13th place in this ranking.

Gradually, starting from 2010, it began to take over increasingly larger volumes of containerised goods in Polish foreign trade and, over time, also in transit, which had previously run the ports of Western Europe. It was a combination of many circumstances, such as Maersk’s extension of the permanent, direct once-a-week connection from Far Eastern ports to Gdańsk (2011), investment in the development of DCT Gdańsk (currently Baltic Hub), increase in Polish foreign trade turnover, organisational and formal improvement of cargo clearance in Gdańsk and improvement of the competitive offer, etc. A shorter scale for data analysis and a low “exit” threshold (2010) are also important.

Our own calculations show that in 2010-2023, the Port of Gdańsk (with two container terminals) recorded an average annual growth of 13 per cent, which consisted of nine years of increase in transhipment (in TEU) and four years of its decline (2015, 2020, 2022 and 2023). The 2011-2013 years were record-breaking in terms of transhipment dynamics, especially the 2012 year when Gdańsk increased the transhipment of goods in containers by 35.4 per cent.

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