(Almost) ubiquitous decline in transhipment in EU container ports

2024/04/19 at 7:30 AM

The ranking of the 15 largest container ports in the European Union shows that the difficult economic climate in 2023 has led to an almost ubiquitous shrinkage of the freight volume in containers. However, there are interesting examples of ports that have bucked this common trend. Also, the long-term data on transhipment (2007-2023) shows that the position and role of many European ports are changing for various reasons.

Source: Pixabay

According to our calculations (based on data from port authorities), in 2023, EU container ports from the TOP-15 list transhipped a total of just over 72 million TEU, by 5.4 per cent less than a year before. This was the second consecutive year of decline in their turnover. At the same time, the transhipment level of these ports in 2023 was 5.2 per cent lower than in pre-COVID 2019. For comparison, in 2022, it was a decline of 1.9 per cent. Let’s add that the TOP-15 ports in the EU are almost identical to the largest container ports in Europe. However, the ranking does not include the largest container port in Great Britain in Felixstowe (3.81 million TEU in 2019, which placed it in 8th place in Europe) and the Port of St. Petersburg (placed outside the TOP-10 in 2019).

Declines and increases

In 2023, as many as 12 EU container ports recorded a decline in transhipment, including all three largest ones (Rotterdam, Antwerp-Bruges and Hamburg), with a total of 46.9 per cent share in the TOP-15 group. They recorded an almost similar level of regression, just over 7 per cent year-to-year. As the management boards of these three ports also emphasised, an important factor in the decline in turnover was the marginal importance of transit (maritime transit) to/from Russian Baltic ports.

Double-digit declines in transhipment occurred in French ports: HAROPA (Le Havre, Rouen, Paris) by 15.2 per cent year-to-year and Marseille – by 13.1 per cent. In turn, only three EU ports recorded transhipment increases last year: Piraeus by 5.2 per cent, Gioia Tauro by 5 per cent and Sines – by 0.6 per cent. In 2023, the Port of Gdańsk remained in 13th place on the TOP-15 list. It recorded a slight decline, around 1 per cent. Its turnover was also 1 per cent lower compared to 2019

Big changes over the years

The list includes calculations from the PortEconomics portal for the 2007-2023 period, prepared by one of the directors, Theo Notteboom. Over such a long period, the 15 largest (according to the 2023 ranking) container ports in the EU recorded an average increase in transhipment of 17.5 per cent but with very large differences.

The increase occurred in 12 ports, with an extraordinary increase in Gdańsk – by 2,016 per cent and in the Portuguese Port of Sines – by 1,010 per cent. Both are relatively young container ports that have benefited over 16 years from progress in the globalisation of economies and a combination of other events, including a change in owners managing major container terminals. The Port of Piraeus had much lower long-term dynamics, by 271 per cent – also after the change of owner (to the Chinese COSCO Group).

Among the three largest container ports today, a multi-year increase occurred in Rotterdam (by 24.6 per cent) and Antwerp (by 22.7 per cent), higher than the average for the 15 ones, while a decline in Hamburg (by 22.7 per cent). Another large German port, in Bremerhaven, also recorded a significant multi-year decline – by 14.5 per cent. PortEconomics does not explain the reasons or nature of these changes. However, we can guess that in the long term, there is a regional shift in the role of logistics centres, which benefits “young” ports.

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