Antwerp, Europe's second largest port, handled 16 percent fewer containers in 2009 than in 2008, losing market share to its main European rival Rotterdam for the first time in several years.
Antwerp, Europe's second largest port, handled 16 percent fewer containers in 2009 than in 2008, losing market share to its main European rival Rotterdam for the first time in several years. Container traffic fell to around 7.2 million 20-foot equivalent units from a record of just over 8.6 million TEUs in 2008, according to provisional figures published Dec. 30.
This marked a slight improvement in the final quarter as traffic had contracted 18.4 percent year-on-year in the first nine months of 2009.
But a near 40 percent slump in the labor-intensive conventional cargo sector pushed up employment among dock workers to a 15 year high, the port authority said.
Total cargo throughput declined 16.7 percent, or some 31.5 million metric tons, to 158 million metric tons, the first decline after seven record years in a row.
The port authority said container traffic was affected by the global economic downturn as well as the move by ocean carriers to cut entire service loops and use fewer and larger vessels.
Carriers opted to concentrate calls at Rotterdam rather than Antwerp, an inland port with draft restrictions on the river Scheldt linking it to the open sea that affect the navigation of the largest container ships.
Rotterdam's container traffic fell 10 percent in 2009 to 9.8 million TEUs and overall cargo was 8.5 percent lower at 385 million metric tons.
The port authority said it expects dredging of the navigation channel on the western bank of the Scheldt to start in January or February which will eventually improve Antwerp's accessibility.
New navigation regulations were introduced in 2009 which resulted in up to 30 of the largest containerships calling at Antwerp between April and November.
The authority said it is confident of retaining its second ranking in Europe's container league it achieved after overtaking Hamburg in the first nine months of the year.
Conventional general cargo slumped 39.4 percent, or 6.6 million metric tons, to 10.3 million metric tons in 2009.
The port authority has proposed cutting tariffs for general cargo by 10 percent in 2010 to prevent a further decline in traffic and a rise in joblessness and has asked stevedoring companies and dock workers to boost productivity. Port dues for other cargoes have been frozen at 2009 levels.
Bulk traffic is expected to close the year down 14 percent at 57.3 million metric tons, with coal shipments tumbling 36 percent and ore cargoes 65 percent lower due to the crisis in the European steel industry.