Rotterdam box traffic dips but outlook improves

Rotterdam announced a dip in its container traffic in the first nine months of 2016, just days after its top rival Antwerp booked an increase to further close the gap with Europe’s top box hub.

The Dutch port handled 9.27 million 20-foot-equivalent units during the period, down 0.4 percent from just more than 9.3 million TEUs a year earlier.

Antwerp, by contrast, grew traffic to 7.56 million TEUs in the first nine months from 7.27 million TEUs last time, consolidating its position as Europe’s second-largest container port.

The Rotterdam Port Authority stressed, however, that while volume declined during the first five months of the year,it has been growing since June.

“This positive trend is expected to continue in the final quarter, thanks among other things to the sailing schedules adopted by the new shipping alliances — which are favorable for Rotterdam — and the development of the terminals at Maasvlakte 2.”

The suspension of payments by Hanjin, the collapsed South Korean container line, led to an estimated loss of 30,000 TEUs, the port said. “Other shipping lines are expected to take over the clients formerly served by Hanjin, meaning this is a temporary effect.”

Traffic in the third quarter totaled 3.16 million TEUs, marginally higher than the 3.06 million TEUs handled in the same period in 2015.

To keep its edge over Europe’s No. 2 and No. 3 ports of Antwerp and Hamburg, Rotterdam is expanding its rail network to compete for cargo destined for markets in eastern Europe and southern Germany. Rotterdam also faces competition from the port of Piraeus, Greece, which can reach eastern Europe via its rail connections.

Increased rail transport will also help the port avoid congestion flare-ups caused by the massive cargo discharges of mega-ships.

Total throughput in the first nine months declined 1.9 percent to just short of 240 million tonnes (264.5 million tons) from 246.4 million tonnes, due mainly to lower coal and iron ore shipments, but the port said it hopes to end the year close to the record 466 million tonnes shipped in 2015.

“Throughput figures only tell part of the story. For example, companies in the offshore sector are currently under pressure, and a number of businesses in the region recently announced large-scale layoffs,” said Allard Castelein, CEO of the Port of Rotterdam Authority.

Total breakbulk traffic edged 0.4 percent higher to 21.05 million tonnes, as a 1.1 percent rise in roll-on/roll-off traffic to 16.1 million tonnes offset a 2 percent drop in other general cargo to 4.23 million tonnes. The sector posted a significant increase in September, however, driven by higher volume of steel billets and monopiles for offshore wind farms in the North Sea.

Dry bulk volume was 7.8 percent lower at 60.3 million tonnes largely the result of an 8.5 percent drop in iron ore and scrap metal shipments “primarily due to growing pressure on the German steel industry due to the dumping of Chinese steel.”

Liquid bulk traffic declined 0.4 percent to 160 million tonnes as the volume of crude oil handled was down 1.6 percent.