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Rotterdam Becomes First European Seaport to Surpass 15 Million TEU

Rotterdam reaches 15m teu
Port of Rotterdam celebrated the arrival of 15M TEU in 2021 (Jerry Lampen photo courtesy of the Port of Rotterdam)

Published Dec 22, 2021 12:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Port of Rotterdam will receive its 15 millionth TEU container for 2021 today, December 22, making it the first European port and the first port outside Asia to reach that level of volume. The port had been steadily progressing toward the level, reaching 14.8 million TEU in 2019, before the pandemic interrupted growth resulting in a three percent decline in 2020.

While European ports including Rotterdam have not seen the same large surge in volumes experienced at the U.S. West Coast ports, they too began a rapid recovery in volumes starting in the fall of 2020. Citing the overall economic recovery and specifically strong consumer spending, Rotterdam saw a nearly eight percent increase in container volumes for the first nine months of 2021, while overcoming challenges in the global supply chain.

“This strong demand, together with the various disruptions (e.g. Suez and outbreaks of coronavirus in Chinese ports) that we have faced this year, means pressure on the logistics chain remains high,” said port officials. Many of the containerships that were stuck when the Suez Canal was blocked in the spring were destined to Rotterdam. However, working with the major carriers, Rotterdam has shown strong progress in clearing the backlog. Supply chain platform project44 recently reported a better than 11 percent decline in port congestion at Rotterdam from October to November and recently the 2M Alliance. Including Maersk and MSC, announced they were realigning service on two of their routes focusing one on Rotterdam and the other on Felixstowe to help alleviate port congestion. 

While total container volume is up at Rotterdam. Port officials highlighted another way the current high prices and capacity constraints are impacting operations. They reported that volume is growing faster than tonnage in part due to the increased number of empties being shipped through the port. “However, the greatest effect could be put down to a sharp decline in the average weight of full containers. Transport prices have risen sharply over the past few quarters. Consequently, the transport of relatively heavy, low-value freight has decreased,” the port said impacting most noticeable export containers but it is also seen on the import side.

“In 2022, we expect the extreme congestion at the Rotterdam container terminals to continue for the time being. This is because the international container ship fleet and terminal capacity are not growing at a rate commensurate with demand,” said Emile Hoogsteden, Commercial Director at the Port of Rotterdam Authority.

To support the future growth in operations, Rotterdam said it will continue to emphasize and encourage the importance of digitization as well as cooperation and data sharing. The port also has several projects underway o expand capacity and develop new sectors such as the importation of hydrogen as well exploring an expansion of shore power and other projects to reduce emissions and improve the environment in the area around the port.