The cities of Antwerp and Bruges have come to an agreement to join their ports under one umbrella.
The unification process, among others setting a new organisational structure, is expected to take a year to finalise, with the City of Antwerp holding a 80.2% and Bruges 19.8% stake in the new port authority.
The merger is subject to a number of customary suspensive conditions, including approval from the Belgian Competition Authorities.
Once combined, the Port of Antwerp-Bruges can count on some 278mt/year of all sorts of cargoes passing through its quays, the majority of it, some 157mt, being containerised freight.
"The ambition is to become the world's first port that reconciles economy, people and climate. […] 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 parties announced in a press release.
The ports will work on improving interconnectivity between them. As such, the transportation of goods by rail between the two sites will be bundled and estuary traffic (by inland vessels on the North Sea) will be optimised. Pipeline connections have also made it to the list of priorities.
"Committed strategic investments, such as the new sea lock in Zeebrugge and the additional container capacity in Antwerp, will go ahead. Future investments will be evaluated from a unified operational perspective, so that both port platforms will benefit […]," the press release further read.
The new port also intends to become an import hub for green hydrogen as well as experiment with the Carbon Capture, Utilisation & Storage technology to cut its carbon footprint.
"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 ro-ro port and one of the largest break bulk ports in Europe. This will make us even more attractive to our existing customers, to new investors and to all other potential stakeholders, and we will undisputedly be the main driver of Flanders' economy," Annick De Ridder, Port Alderman and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Antwerp Port Authority, said.
She furthered, "Our ambition to bring the two ports together is about much more than simply tonnage and TEUs, however. It will enable us to focus even more firmly on the transition towards a low-carbon economy and to continue our efforts regarding the digitalisation of the supply chain. The ports of Zeebrugge and Antwerp are to a large extent complementary and working together will make us more resilient to external challenges."
Dirk De Fauw, Mayor of Bruges and Chair of the Zeebrugge Port Authority, also commented, "We are looking forward to join forces with the Port of Antwerp and, by doing so, to strengthen our position as the most important gateway to Europe. Zeebrugge is the world's largest automotive hub, a leading ro-ro port and an experienced, state-of-the-art natural gas hub. By combining our own strengths with the qualities offered by Antwerp, we will be 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 our region. We will strengthen our joint economic and international position, while simultaneously creating added value for society in general."
Photo: Antwerp Port Authority & Zeebrugge Port Authority