Record container throughput limits losses in 2020, the year of coronavirus

Record container throughput limits losses in 2020, the year of coronavirus

Solid foundation for 2021

The total throughput of Port of Antwerp in 2020 amounted to 231 million metric tonnes of cargo, a fall of 3.1% compared with the previous year. Thanks to the buoyant container throughput rates, which set a new record, the port was able to limit the overall decline in throughput. Compared with most other ports in the Hamburg-Le Havre range, the port held up very well despite a year dominated by coronavirus and other trade tensions. The investment in pioneering projects relating to energy transition, digitalisation, and mobility have also laid solid foundations for a sustainable future.

New record in container traffic

Container throughput in the port of Antwerp has been breaking records for years now, and 2020 is no different. Despite a year dominated by coronavirus, with several difficult months and cancelled sailings, container throughput once again saw higher volumes since July. As a result, the 12 million TEU mark was exceeded for the first time in 2020, equating to growth of 1.3% compared with 2019. Thanks to this record in the container segment, the port held up better than most other ports in the Hamburg-Le Havre range in 2020.

Breakbulk segment suffers as a result of trade tensions and the coronavirus crisis

Both coronavirus and the increasing protectionism as a result of global trade tensions had a markedly negative impact on breakbulk goods flows in 2020, resulting in a 16,3% decrease in total throughput compared with 2019. Steel, the main commodity group in this segment, was hit particularly hard. The car sector also suffered as a result of the coronavirus crisis and total RoRo throughput decreased by 9.4%. Throughput of new vehicles in 2020 fell by 21.5% while that of second-hand vehicles fell by 22.5% compared with the same period last year.

Yearly figures 2020 - © Port of Antwerp
Yearly figures 2020 - © Port of Antwerp

Lower demand for liquid and dry bulk

Though the throughput of coal was still growing in the first quarter, it came to a standstill afterwards. Fertilizers, ores, sand, and gravel also saw losses in 2020 while scrap just about held up, resulting in a 17% decrease in dry bulk throughput. This decrease is due to the growing supply of green energy and reduced demand for coal and ores from the steel sector.

Liquid bulk fell by a total of 4.2%. Crude oil throughput fell by 60% due to reduced refining activities. Meanwhile, the throughput of oil derivatives recovered with a growth of 3.4%, despite an initial reduction in demand due to the coronavirus crisis and the sharp drop in the price of oil. Chemicals also saw a fall in demand, which resulted in a drop of 8.9%.

Seagoing vessels

In 2020, 13,655 seagoing vessels called at Antwerp, representing a 5.1% decrease compared with 2019. The gross tonnage of these vessels fell by 5.2% to 394 million.

Pioneering role

In 2020, the port demonstrated its resilience even in difficult times. Despite the crisis, it made progress in terms of greener energy, digitalisation, and mobility through various pioneering projects. The business plan for the coming year continues to build on the 2018-2020 business plan with its three strategic priorities of sustainable growth, targeted transition, and resilience. As such, Port of Antwerp aims to continue playing a pioneering role in the future development of the port, in order to eventually become the global port that reconciles economy, people and climate. 

Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO Port of Antwerp: “We were caught up in a storm in 2020, but we stayed upright. The port has even set another record in container throughput. This enabled us to limit the damage due to losses in other segments and to present better figures than other ports. ​ This once again confirms the importance of the container segment and the need to expand the capacity. It will not be smooth sailing in 2021 nor will it be predictable, but we are stronger than before. Despite the crisis, we were more forward-looking than ever in 2020, in terms of energy transition, mobility, and digitalisation. I am convinced that our ambitious projects, such as the CO2 reduction project Antwerp@C, the hydrogen coalition, the digital encryption of containers with the "Certified Pick up" project, and the new development of the NextGen District on the old Opel site will really be major game changers within the next 10 years.“
Annick De Ridder, Port Alderman: "2020 was an unprecedented year of extremes with many unexpected challenges and rapid changes, but also resilience. The port has demonstrated its resilience and we have been able to ensure that the port has remained 100% operational thanks to the expertise and commitment of the port's many thousands of employees. Once again, my thanks for that. Compared to most other ports in the Hamburg-Le Havre range, we are holding our position very well with, moreover, a record in container throughput. The economic urgency for additional container capacity is thus more than ever demonstrated. With numerous innovative projects, we have reaffirmed our pioneering role. In 2021, we will continue this momentum with our submitted relaunch projects such as the pipeline network that can be a key in the energy transition and attention for the railways. In short, we are emphasising resilience, transition and sustainable growth. By taking our lead together with our partners, we confirm and perpetuate our position as a world port"
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About Port of Antwerp-Bruges

With an overall throughput of 271 million tonnes per year, Port of Antwerp-Bruges is a critical hub in worldwide trade and industry. The port is a crucial link for the handling of containers, breakbulk and for the throughput of vehicles. Port of Antwerp-Bruges is home to 1,400 companies and accommodates the largest integrated chemical cluster in Europe. The port provides, directly and indirectly, a total of around 164,000 jobs and generates an added value of 21 billion euros.
The ambition for Port of Antwerp-Bruges is clear - to become the world's first port that reconciles economy, people and climate. As well as growing in a sustainable way, the Port also aims to focus on its unique position as a logistics, maritime and industrial centre and to take the lead in the transition to a circular and low-carbon economy. Together with the port community, customers and other partners, Port of Antwerp-Bruges is actively seeking innovative solutions for a sustainable future. High on the agenda is its responsibility for the environment and the surrounding society. 

The port sites of Antwerp and Zeebrugge are operated by the Antwerp-Bruges Port Authority, a limited liability company of public law with the City of Antwerp and the City of Bruges as its shareholders. The port employs 1,800 people. Vice-Mayor of Antwerp Annick De Ridder is President of the Board of Directors, the Mayor of Bruges Dirk De fauw is the Vice-President. Jacques Vandermeiren is CEO and President of the Executive Committee, which is responsible for the port’s day-to-day management.

The telephone number +32 492 15 41 39 is only for press inquiries. For other questions you can mail to

Port of Antwerp-Bruges
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2030 Antwerp