This video shows container traffic growth in European ports between 1985 and 2018. The bars are proportional to the total container traffic handled in TEU.
The top 4 European container ports have remained unchanged since the start of containerization in European ports in the late 1960s: the Dutch port of Rotterdam, the Belgian port of Antwerp and the German ports of Hamburg and Bremerhaven have always occupied the top spots in TEU terms in the European container port system. These four ports are all located in the so-called Hamburg-Le Havre range in northwest Europe. Hamburg for a long time ranked second in Europe, but since the crisis year 2009 Antwerp successfully challenged Hamburg’s position. In 2018, the throughput gap between Antwerp and Hamburg amounted to almost 2.5 million TEU, while Rotterdam handled nearly 3.5 million TEU more than Antwerp.
The hegemony of these top 4 container ports is now undermined by strong growth in the main container ports in the Mediterranean. In 2018, Valencia (no. 5 in Europe) narrowed the throughput gap with Bremerhaven to only 360,000 TEU, while also Piraeus, Algeciras, and even Barcelona are closing in fast on Bremerhaven. Bremerhaven actually lost its number 4 spot in the European container port rankings. Piraeus unseated Bremerhaven to become the fourth-largest container port in Europe, closely followed by Valencia and Algeciras in positions 5 and 6. The position of the top three European container ports (i.e. Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Hamburg) remains undisputed for now (see the difference in bar heights).
Finally, it should be noted that a large part of the growth observed in the mentioned Med ports is related to the sea-sea transhipment business: Piraeus and Algeciras are almost pure transhipment hubs in the Med, while Valencia combines transhipment flows with gateway cargo to the (mainly Spanish) hinterland. All four north-European ports mentioned above also combine transhipment flows with import/export cargo.