Ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge agree merger

The new unified port, to be called the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, will become one of the largest container and breakbulk ports in Europe, and, with a sharp focus on sustainability, it intends to play a key role as an import hub for green hydrogen.

The proposed merger is subject to a number of conditions, including approval from the Belgian competition authorities, but both ports are looking to finalise the transaction during this year.

The ‘new’ port will have a container throughput of 157 million tonnes a year, and it will also become the largest port for the transshipment of vehicles in Europe. Already a major chemical hub, Antwerp-Bruges will account for more than 15% of Europe’s liquid gas transited. It will also be the largest cruise port in the Benelux region.

Announcing the news, both parties stated their joint ambition ‘to become the world’s first port that reconciles economy, people and climate’. As part of a joint plan, the two ports have defined three strategic priorities – sustainable growth, resilience and leadership in the energy and digital transition.

The activities of the ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge are largely complementary. Antwerp specialises in the handling and storage of containers, break bulk and chemical products, while Zeebrugge is a major port for Ro-Ro traffic, container handling and the transhipment of liquid natural gas.

As part of the unification process, the transportation of goods by rail between the two sites will be bundled, estuary traffic (by inland vessels on the North Sea) will be optimised and pipeline connections will also be on the list of priorities.

Already committed strategic investments, such as the new sea lock in Zeebrugge and additional container capacity in Antwerp, will go ahead.

As well as taking a leadership role in the hydrogen economy, the Port of Antwerp-Bruges will also look at ways of applying Carbon Capture, Utilisation & Storage (CCUS) in order to transition towards a becoming a low-carbon port.

Finally, Port of Antwerp-Bruges will offer a number of significant advantages in terms of innovation and digitalisation, making it possible to make the supply chain not only more efficient, but also safer and more reliable.

Annick De Ridder, port alderman and chair of the board of directors of the Antwerp Port Authority, commented: ‘We are proud of this historic agreement, which seals a long-awaited unification. By joining forces, we are on the way to becoming Europe’s global port, while at the same time reinforcing our position as the most important container port in terms of tonnage, a solid RoRo port and one of the largest break bulk ports in Europe. This will make us even more attractive to our existing customers, to new investors and to all other potential stakeholders and we will undisputedly be the main driver of Flanders’ economy.

‘Our ambition to bring the two ports together is about much more than simply tonnage and TEUs, however. It will enable us to focus even more firmly on the transition towards a low-carbon economy and to continue our efforts regarding the digitalisation of the supply chain.’

Dirk De fauw, mayor of Bruges and chair of Zeebrugge Port Authority, noted: We are looking forward to join forces with the port of Antwerp and, by doing so, to strengthen our position as the most important gateway to Europe. Zeebrugge is the world’s largest automotive hub, a leading Ro-Ro port and an experienced, state-of-the-art natural gas hub.’

Lesley Bankes-Hughes

Lesley Bankes-Hughes