The city of Antwerp and the city of Bruges have started a unification process to merge their respective ports which, once completed, will operate as Port of Antwerp-Bruges.
Both parties aim to finalise the transaction in the course of 2021 and the transaction is subject to a number of customary suspensive conditions, including approval from Belgian competition authorities.
The unification process is expected to take a year to finalise with the ports set to be able to strengthen their position within the global supply chain and continue towards more sustainable growth as part of the merger.
Annick De Ridder, port alderman and chair of the board of directors at the Antwerp Port Authority, said: “We are proud of this historic agreement, which seals a long-awaited unification.
“By joining forces, we are on the way to becoming Europe’s global port, while at the same time reinforcing our position as the most important container port in terms of tonnage, a solid roll-on roll-off (ro-ro) port and one of the largest break bulk ports in Europe.”
Upon merging, the Port of Antwerp-Bruges will be responsible for 157m tonnes of container cargo per year.
Antwerp is among the largest ports in Europe, second only to Rotterdam, and is listed as the 13th largest container port globally in CM’s 2020 World Top Container Ports.
The Port of Antwerp handled over 11m teu in 2019, while the Port of Zeebrugge handled 1.7m teu and is among the top 100 ports in the world ranked at 94.
Additionally, the merged port will become largest port for the transhipment of vehicles in Europe and will account for more than 15%b of Europe’s liquid natural gas (LNG) transited.
“Our ambition to bring the two ports together is about much more than simply tonnage and teus, however,” De Ridder added. “It will enable us to focus even more firmly on the transition toward a low-carbon economy and continue our efforts regarding the digitalisation of the supply chain.
As part of a joint plan, the two ports have defined three strategic priorities: sustainable growth, resilience and leadership in the energy and digital transition.
The ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge are largely complementary with Antwerp specialised in the handling and storage of containers, break bulk and chemical products, while Zeebrugge is a major port for ro-ro traffic, container handling and the transhipment of LNG.
By working more closely together, the two ports will be able to make it possible to consolidate sustainable growth for not only each individual port’s market share but also their joint market share.
Dirk De faur, mayor of Bruges and chair of Zeebrugge Port Authority, said: “By combining our own strengths with the qualities offered by Antwerp, we will able to do more and do it better.
“We will achieve this in the interests of and in consideration of our shared port operations, our city and region. We will strengthen our joint economic and international position, while simultaneously creating added value for society in general. “
The Port of Antwerp-Bruges will seek to develop and make optimum use of the interconnectivity between the two ports, with the transportation of goods by rail between the two sites bundled.
Estuary traffic by inland vessels on the North Sea will also be optimised and pipeline connections will be prioritised.
Committed strategic investments, such as the new sea lock in Zeebrugge and the additional container capacity in Antwerp, will go ahead.
Further investments will be evaluated from a unified operational perspective, so that both platforms will benefit, and the port continues to meet its customers’ expectations.
Merging together will make the two ports more resilient to changes and the Port of Antwerp-Bruges will draw upon the resources, expertise and talent of its teams in Antwerp and Zeebrugge.
Transparent, long-term agreements will be made with regard to the leadership and management of the Port of Antwerp-Bruges.
The two cities of Antwerp and Bruges have an ambitious goal for the Port of Antwerp-Bruges to become the “world’s first port to reconcile economy, people and climate”.
A unified port will be able to respond more rapidly and more effectively to social and technological developments, such as energy transition, innovation and digitalisation.
Sustainability is already a central part of the strategic direction in both Antwerp and in Zeebrugge, but the Port of Antwerp-Bruges aims to “set the bar higher”.
It aims to take an active and pioneering role in the hydrogen economy and, in addition, it will continue efforts to reduce its carbon footprint to become a low-carbon port.