2022 was a year of challenges for Port of Antwerp-Bruges. Geopolitical tensions, the energy crisis and ongoing disruptions in supply chains made their presence felt and, in addition to shifts within the various commodity flows, put sustained pressure on the container segment. This affected throughput, which was down 0.7% year-on-year to 286.9 million tons of cargo. However, the flood of new investments and projects confirms the attractiveness of the unified port and the added value of the complementarity of the two port platforms.
The challenges were most palpable in container traffic. Global disruptions within container shipping, and the resulting congestion with peak call sizes and delays, put pressure on volumes throughout the year. In addition, the conflict in Ukraine caused a decrease in Russia-related traffic by 59%. And while operational challenges at container terminals and congestion have been slowly easing since the third quarter, high energy prices and economic uncertainty have caused a slowdown in demand for container traffic. As a result, container throughput fell 8.6% in tons and 5.2% in TEUs in 2022, compared with a strong 2021, back to pre-pandemic levels.
The war in Ukraine, the sanctions against Russia and the energy crisis greatly changed the energy landscape and flows in Europe, which translated into strong growth in bulk cargo. Dry bulk throughput increased by 13.8% in 2022. Coal throughput, in particular, experienced a sharp increase (+210%) due to the substantial rise in demand for coal powered generation. Fertilisers, however, declined by 18.3% due in part to sanctions on Russia and significantly higher fertiliser prices.
The liquid bulk segment grew 10%, mainly due to a 61.3% increase in demand for LNG as an alternative to natural gas via pipelines from Russia. There was also growth for LPG (+30%), gasoline (+7%), diesel/fuel oil (+9.9%) and naphtha (+7.5%). Chemicals throughput, which had its best year ever in 2021, began to decline in mid-2022 due to increased energy prices that put pressure on the European chemicals sector; volumes ended up with a slight decrease of 1% compared to 2021.
After record figures in 2021, conventional breakbulk (+1.1%) held up well in the first half of the year due to growth in the throughput of steel, the main commodity group within this segment. Starting in the third quarter, steel volumes declined as a result of the slowing economy.
Total roll-on/roll-off traffic saw an increase of 6.5%. More than 3.26 million new cars were handled in 2022, an annualised growth of 10.5%. Throughput of ‘high & heavy’ rolling stock increased by 9.6%, while throughput of used cars and trucks decreased by 13.2% and 17% respectively. Unaccompanied cargo (excluding containers) grew 10.0%, a significant portion of which was related to the United Kingdom (+4.9%) and Ireland (+35%).
In 2022, Zeebrugge welcomed 144 cruise ships with 547,374 passenger movements, a firm increase compared to the 23 ships and 75,854 passenger movements from last year when cruise shipping was largely at a standstill due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, calls have already been booked up to 2026 and beyond.