A complete merger from A to Z

The Belgian ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge will soon work as one in a move that could rival Rotterdam as the biggest port in Europe

By Penny Thomas

March 29, 2022


Image: Europe’s Port of Antwerp is situated on the River Scheldt and has a broad reach into the European hinterland (Photo: Shutterstock/SL-Photography)

The two Belgian ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge are in the final stages of a merger that will bring them together under the name of Port of Antwerp-Bruges. Once complete the port will be 80.2% owned by the City of Antwerp and 19.8% owned by the City of Bruges.

Port of Zeebrugge is situated on the North Sea and handles a variety of cargos, including natural gas through its LNG hub, and is prominent in the roro and passenger ferry space - in 2021 the coastal port handled 2,261,096 new cars. Meanwhile, Antwerp is situated approximately 91 km inland on the River Scheldt and has a strong hinterland reach through a network of railways, roads, and rivers, canal waterways and pipelines. 

It is Belgium’s largest port and the second largest in Europe and last year handled more than 12 million containers and around 11.5 million tonnes (excluding roro cargoes) of break bulk cargoes.

Antwerp Zeebrugge

Image: Europe’s Port of Antwerp is situated on the River Scheldt and has a broad reach into the European hinterland (Photo: Shutterstock/SL-Photography)

Industry commentators believe that Antwerp-Bruge could be in a position to rival Rotterdam as the largest port in Europe. Container throughput figures in 2021 are certainly close, with Rotterdam handling 15.3 million TEU and Antwerp and Zeebrugge combined handling 14.2 million TEU - only a little over a million between them.

From an overall tonnage perspective Rotterdam, which handled 468.7 million tonnes in the same year still leads over Antwerp/ Zeebrugge’s 280 million tonnes per year. However, the possibilities for the new port, which will have direct access from the North Sea, as does Rotterdam, paired with the inland port of the Antwerp site is compelling. 

“As a result of the merger, the ports will be able to strengthen their position within the global supply chain and continue their course towards sustainable growth,” Port of Antwerp told MarineTraffic.


Image: New cars wait to be loaded at Port of Zeebrugge (Photo: Shutterstock/ambient-pix)

Ports in numbers

Antwerp is keen to point out that: “Unifying a port is more than a story of tonnes and volumes,”  as it told MarineTraffic, but when looking at the figures it’s clear how the two ports will complement each other. Antwerp is by far the bigger player in terms of volumes handled across containers, breakbulk, and liquid and dry bulk cargoes. Zeebrugge, meanwhile, holds its own as leading Europe’s in car and vehicle exports, and in 2019 handled 14.2 million tonnes of vehicle-based cargoes - more than three times more than Antwerp whose figure stood at 3.9 million tonnes.

Arrivals and departures data from MarineTraffic support these figures. The grid below shows that in both February and until 22 March this year, there were nearly four times more roro arrivals and departures at Zeebrugge than at Antwerp. 


Port Call Arrivals



Bulk carriers

Roro vehicle carriers/ 

Roro passenger carriers


Month in



March  (1-22)


March (1-22)


March (1-22)


March (1-22)



















Port Call Departures




















Together the two ports will handle around 157 million tonnes of containerised cargo a year, and become “one of the largest break bulk ports and the largest port for the throughput of vehicles in Europe,” Port of Antwerp said in a statement.

Sustainable agenda

The new port will pursue a number of projects to transition to a low carbon economy.

Antwerp is already a pioneer in port sustainability. It has invested in the use of sustainably produced methanol and hydrogen as alternative fuels for its fleet, and in 2019 it achieved a world-first when it placed an order for a hydrogen-powered tug. 

Following the merger, the port will focus its energy on establishing itself as the most important hub for hydrogen in Europe. 

According to a Port of Antwerp factsheet, the duo have since 2019, along with five other leading players, “been taking steps towards the establishment of a hydrogen economy in Belgium. In the meantime, a study has clearly demonstrated that it is both technically and economically feasible to ship hydrogen to Belgium from other parts of the world where sun and wind are plentiful.”

Port of Antwerp-Bruges will also research opportunities for CCUS (Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage) and green methanol production from CO2. “Both the Port of Antwerp and the Port of Zeebrugge are working to turn the transition towards a multi-fuel port into reality. One of the ways they are doing this is by bunkering products such as LNG as an alternative marine fuel,” said the factsheet. It also notes that combined the two ports will have 130 wind turbines - a figure that is set to increase post merger. 

It told MarineTraffic: “...the unified port will be more resilient to the challenges of the future and will take a lead in the transition towards a low-carbon economy. The ambition is for Port of Antwerp-Bruges to become the world's first port to reconcile economy, people and climate.”

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Penny Thomas

Penny Thomas

Account Manager at London based public relations agency, Navigate PR

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