Port of Rotterdam's Throughput Drops Amidst Global Challenges

Tank terminal Rotterdam
Tank terminal at Rotterdam (file image)

Published Feb 21, 2024 2:21 AM by The Maritime Executive

The Port of Rotterdam is feeling the impacts of global geopolitical and economic upheavals, posting a decline in total cargo throughput and recording a near-flat change in revenues last year. For Europe’s busiest port, Russia’s war in Ukraine and the resultant sanctions, changing energy needs dynamics in Europe, weakening economic growth and faltering global trade have conspired to create a slump in performance.

In 2023, Rotterdam recorded a 6.1 percent decline in total cargo throughput, moving 438.8 million tons compared to 467.4 million tons in 2022.

The fall was mainly seen in coal throughput, containers and other dry bulk. The port still had a “stable year financially” after revenue posted a marginal increase of 1.9 percent to $909 million.

For Rotterdam, the clouds of uncertainty that started gathering in 2022 continued last year. After demand for coal rose sharply in Europe due to concerns about energy security and large increases in gas prices in 2022, last year saw more stability and a transition to LNG.

Coal throughput at the port fell by 20.3 percent to 23.1 million tons, mainly because of low demand for coal for power production. Decline in coal had the biggest impact on dry bulk throughput, which plunged by 11.8% to 70.6 million tons compared to 80 million tons in 2022.

Slowing economic growth in Europe also hit the segment, causing a striking decrease of 49.4 percent in other dry bulk.  

In liquid bulk, overall throughput was 3.4 percent lower last year, down to 205.6 million tons compared to 212.7 million the previous year. Crude oil fell by 1.4 percent with the discontinuation of ship-to-ship transshipment.

On the flipside, increase in LNG imports as Europe moved to replace pipeline imports of Russian natural gas saw throughput increase by 3.7 percent to 11.9 million tons from 11.4 million tons the previous year. The port also saw more LNG bunkering activity.

Container throughput was noticeably down. Owing to lower consumption, lower production in Europe and the discontinuation of volumes to and from Russia due to sanctions, the number of TEU handled fell by seven percent to 13.4 million, down from 14.4 million the previous year. Roll-on/roll-off traffic fell by five percent, with the weak UK economy and lagging consumption being the main causes.

“2023 saw ongoing geopolitical unrest, low economic growth due to higher interest rates and faltering global trade, all of which had a logical effect on throughput in the port of Rotterdam,” said Boudewijn Siemons, Port of Rotterdam Authority CEO.

Despite facing a turbulent year, which the authority expects to continue this year in what is already shaping up as unpredictable, Rotterdam is advancing investments to transition the port to a sustainable facility. Last year the Port Authority invested a total of $319.5 million on key projects. Key investments are also lined up for implementation this year, some of which are critical in Rotterdam’s energy transition ambitions.