A global comparison of Europe’s container ports

Hamburg – In June 2014, German trade magazine Deutsche Verkehrs-Zeitung (DVK) summed it up neatly with the headline “The miracle of Piraeus.” The most important port in Greece had been transformed from problem child into Wunderkind. Piraeus, severely hit by the economic crisis of 2007 onwards, had regained its place among Europe’s top 10 ports in the space of just a few years.

The top ports in the North Sea and the “miracle of Piraeus”

It was all made possible by controversial investment from the Chinese company Cosco, which has been the majority shareholder of the Greek port since 2016 and is developing it into the bridgehead of the “New Silk Road”. In 2017, annual turnover at Piraeus amounted to 4.15 million TEU. This represents growth of 248.7 per cent compared with 2010. No other European port can boast such growth rates. The next in line – but far behind – are Algeciras in Spain (56.8 per cent) and Marsaxlokk in Malta (32.9 per cent).

The international movement of goods is mainly carried out by sea and containers. The size and development of container ports is therefore an important part of global trade.

When it comes to sheer turnover, however, Algeciras and Piraeus are well behind Rotterdam (13.73 million TEU) and Antwerp (10.45 million TEU). Both recorded growth of around 23 per cent compared with 2010. They are followed by the two German ports of Hamburg (8.86 million TEU) and Bremerhaven (5.51 million TEU).

Generally speaking, Europe’s ports can be divided into three categories:

  • The North Sea area, comprising the four largest European ports
  • The Spanish Mediterranean ports of Valencia and Algeciras, ranked fifth and sixth
  • The south-eastern European ports around Piraeus

Global trading power China – Europe outperformed

By international standards, however, European ports are far behind. The international rankings are dominated by Chinese ports: four of the top five global ports are in China. In 2017, the front-runner Shanghai achieved a turnover of 40.23 million TEU. This transshipment volume alone is greater than that of the three largest European ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg.