Port of Antwerp notes 'striking rise' in project cargo shipments

Port of Antwerp notes ‘striking rise’ in project cargo shipments

Port of Antwerp witnessed a striking increase in project cargo shipments during the year 2021, pushed by the ongoing projects around renewable energy and the construction of chemical plants. The port’s breakbulk volumes exploded during the year after a drop in 2020 due to the pandemic and the global trade conundrum. 

In 2021, breakbulk volumes reached 1 million tons per month, totalling 11.5 million tons for the whole year (excl. roro). This marks no less than a 74 percent rise in figures compared to 2020, surpassing the previous record growth of 2012.

Ann De Smet, key account manager at Port of Antwerp explains, “One of the main drivers for this growth was the lack of container capacity. In 2021, we saw a huge increase in general cargo given the pressure on the container market. But alongside this decontainerisation trend, the global economic recovery is also pushing steel figures upwards, and transport of project cargo is boosted by EU measures to meet climate ambitions.”

Environmental measures boosting project cargo

The Fit for 55 package and other measures taken by the EU to evolve to carbon neutrality is pushing European industry to further transit to carbon neutral sources of energy and hence driving refurbishment of plants and investment in renewable energy – marked by significant government investments in this sector. Port of Antwerp is home to a huge chemical cluster and expects further developments in this respect.

The port’s geographical location helps to secure the transport of project cargo to and from Europe, such as cargo destined for energy plants in Germany or northern France via road or inland waterways.

Port of Antwerp breakbulk
Photo source: Port of Antwerp

Wind turbine components heading for France for instance, have become a regular transport in Antwerp. Several specialised service providers are involved to handle blades, hubs, nacelles, motors and tower sections.

“Project cargo is highly relevant in the Port of Antwerp, in view of the expected growth potential, high employment rate and evolution of many service providers in the port with top class expertise,” says Ann De Smet. “I believe that this sector will continue to claim its spot in the global supply chain and adds diversification in a port platform.It will however be a big challenge to attract and inspire young people to join the sector. In breakbulk, every shipment is unique and requires a lot of dedication and care.”

The sudden growth in breakbulk volumes is also putting resources and handling capacity to the test. Currently, breakbulk service providers are doing all they can to cope with any operational disruptions to be able to service the industry through its growth. Many of them are also investing in the expansion of capacity, dedicated warehouses with reinforced floors, heavy lift cranes and intermodal linked terminals. Terminal operator PSA Breakbulk plans to invest €11 million for a new heavy cargo terminal along the Churchill dock, while packing specialist Deufol is extending its warehousing capacity in Antwerp for the seaworthy packaging of industrial loads.

Port of Antwerp sets sights on the future

Ann De Smet is optimistic about what the future has in store. “The aftermath of the pandemic will continue to be felt – global supply chain challenges, terminal capacity and labor shortages are likely to keep us busy for much of 2022,” she said.

De Smet also added that unreliable supply chains and rising energy prices are making the project market very volatile and hard to predict. However, with the last year’s experience De Smet believes Port of Antwerp’s service providers are well equipped to tackle the future challenges no matter the complexity.

Author: Adnan Bajic

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