Source: Notteboom (2021), own compilation based on figures port authorities
The Rhine-Scheldt Delta includes all ports located in the estuary systems of the Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt rivers. In 2020, this port system handled about 878 million TEU and about 28.7 million TEU. The two largest ports in Europe, Rotterdam and Antwerp, are located in this Delta as well as Europe’s fourth-largest (Amsterdam). Antwerp, Rotterdam, North Sea Port, and Moerdijk are home to large interconnected (petro)chemical industry clusters. At the same time, steel plants can be found in North Sea Port (ArcelorMittal) and Ijmuiden/Amsterdam (Tata Steel). The port of Amsterdam is strongly specialized in liquid bulk and dry bulk and has very limited container traffic. The coastal port area of Zeebrugge (by late 2021 managed by Port of Antwerp-Bruges) is the largest car handling port in the world with about three million new cars handled each year, and a major energy hub for gas transported by pipelines and LNG carriers.
The region is home to several ‘bottom-up’ mergers and cooperation agreements between port authorities:
- The cross-border port authority North Sea Port was formed in 2018 after the merger between the port authority of Ghent (Belgium) and Zeeland Seaports (ports of Flushing and Terneuzen in the Netherlands). North Sea Port is the second cross-border port merger in Europe after the creation of Copenhagen-Malmo port (Denmark/Sweden).
- Port of Antwerp-Bruges. This merger port authority was announced in February 2021 and formally installed on 22 April 2022. It is the result of the merger between the Antwerp Port Authority and MBZ, the port authority of Zeebrugge. It is one of the largest port mergers in Europe in terms of volume. The merged entity remains a municipal port authority with 80% of the shares held by the City of Antwerp and 20% by the City of Bruges. Discussion about the merger started in early 2018 between the City of Antwerp and the City of Bruges with a view to closer collaboration. However, there have been several other attempts to reach a closer collaboration between both ports in the past decades, particularly focusing on the container business. Next to further strengthening its position in cargo handling and logistics, the merged entity also aims to become Europe’s most important hub for hydrogen, a center for energy transition and the circular economy, and overall a resilient, sustainable, and diversified port ecosystem. The ports combined handled 278 million tons in 2020 and 13.8 million TEU. The port area (i.e. Antwerp right bank, Antwerp left bank, and Zeebrugge’s inner and outer port area) covers just over 14,000 hectares. Direct employment amounts to 72,000 jobs, and direct and indirect value added reached 20 billion euro (or 4.5% of Belgium’s GDP in 2019).
- In 2013, the Port of Rotterdam Authority adopted responsibility for the operation and development of Dordrecht’s port area. The port authority is working closely with the Municipality of Dordrecht and local companies to exploit the full potential of the 290-hectare port area and the neighboring industrial estate, under the brand name Dordrecht Inland Seaport.
- The Port of Amsterdam can be considered the main port in a cluster of ports along the North Sea Canal which include Amsterdam, Velsen/IJmuiden, Zaanstad, and Beverwijk.