Tuesday, October 29, 2019

More European Seaports Consider Merger to Combine Strengths and See Off the Challenges of the Future

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BELGIUM – Having seen the French ports of Calais and Boulogne sur Mer merge into 'Port Boulogne Calais' in 2015, and with plans to do the same with Le Havre, Rouen and Paris by 2021 on the table, it seems two of Belgium's leading seaports may well do the same.

Having started a dialogue last year, and after the results of a study by consultancy firms Deloitte and Laga, the two port authorities of Zeebrugge and Antwerp last week agreed to go ahead with full discussions on negotiations for a full, phased merger of operations. The talks are expected to come to fruition within two years and Dirk De Fauw, chairman of the Port of Zeebrugge, said:

“We have been talking with the Port of Antwerp for some time now to see how we can work more closely together with the aim of strengthening each other’s platforms. The ambition of both our port authorities is to form a future-proof port with a complete offering from A to Z. Based on the growing trust and the positive findings of the research report, we will start the formal discussions with our colleagues from the Port of Antwerp.”

It seems the research concluded that existing customers of the pair thought it would be a forward step with the existing relations hampered by the traditional competition between them. The challenges of the future, and the possibilities to extend the type and quantity of traffic seems to make economic sense to both parties given the very real challenges faced by ports in the coming years. Port of Antwerp Alderman Annick De Ridder, observed:

“Deloitte's research indicates that our ports are highly complementary and that we face similar challenges. Together, we can turn Antwerp and Zeebrugge into the port of the future faster and more effectively by focusing on domains such as energy transition, innovation and digitalisation. We are starting formal merger talks with Zeebrugge because we are confident that this will enable us to reinforce our position as the main gateway to Europe.”

Zeebrugge, in the news this week for all the wrong reasons, shifted over 40 million tonnes of cargo last year with a thriving RoRo service (mainly for unaccompanied vehicles) and container sectors, both handling over 15 million tonnes in that total. With 20 intra-European ferry services to destinations in the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, the Baltic region, Russia and Southern Europe, traffic also includes automobile shipping with 2.8 million units moved in 2018.

Meanwhile Antwerp saw a record year in 2018 with container throughput at 11.1 million TEU, up 6.4%, transhipment a record 235.2 million tonnes, RoRo up 5.4% to 5.3 million tonnes, bulk up to 75.8 and 13 million tonnes in liquid and dry respectively, and again automotive movements up 4.7% to over 1.25 million.

Photo: Both ports see a wide range of cargoes.