POST Online Media Lite Edition


Port of Rotterdam throughput virtually unchanged in 2022

Christian Fernsby |
The war in Ukraine led to unprecedented changes in goods flows last year.

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At 467.4 million tonnes, total throughput in Rotterdam was almost the same (-0.3%) as in 2021 (468.7 million tonnes) but the underlying figures show that there were major changes.

Container throughput fell by 5.5% in TEU (-9.6% in tonnes), mainly because container traffic to and from Russia came to a virtual standstill after the invasion of Ukraine.

Imports of LNG, mainly from the USA, increased by 63.9% as an alternative to Russian gas.

At the same time, coal imports rose by 17.9% as mainly German coal-fired power plants were used more. In line with the sanctions, companies reduced imports of Russian oil, oil products and coal, and succeeded in importing them from elsewhere.

The Port Authority has had a good 2022 in financial terms. Revenue rose by 6.9% to € 825.7 million. Operating expenses also increased: by 8.3% to € 282.2 million. The operating result before interest, depreciation and taxes (EBITDA) was also higher on balance: by 6.1% to € 543.5 million.

The net result was unchanged at € 247.2 million (2021: € 247.2 million). The Port Authority invested a total of € 257.0 million in the port (2021: € 226.3 million). The dividend proposal for the shareholders (the Municipality of Rotterdam and the Dutch State) increased by € 9.6 million to € 132.3 million (2021: € 122.7 million).

Revenue consisted mainly of contract revenue (from land lease) and port dues. As a result of price changes and new contracts, contract revenue rose by € 24.9 million. Income from port dues was € 27.8 million higher, despite throughput remaining virtually unchanged.

The main reasons for this were the changes in throughput as a whole (fewer containers, more bulk cargo), a price indexation of 2.5%, a lower call size (number of containers transshipped per port call) per container vessel, and fewer discounts (in part because of less transshipment). All this led to an increase in the average price per tonne.

Operating expenses were € 21.7 million higher. This includes a one-off item of € 10 million relating to assets (particularly pontoons and jetties) that were transferred to the Municipality of Rotterdam.

The dry bulk segment saw an increase of 1.7% to 80.1 million tonnes. The agribulk segment is always strongly influenced by harvest yields in different parts of the world.

There were reduced imports from Ukraine last year and high energy costs also caused less processing of agribulk. High energy costs were also a major reason for the lower production in the German steel industry.

As a consequence, imports of iron ore declined by 15.5%. The throughput of coal, which in addition to being used in blast furnaces is primarily burned in power plants, rose sharply by 17.9%. Coal was cheaper than natural gas and it also reduces dependence on natural gas (in particular from Russia).

In order to burn less natural gas in gas-fired power plants, the Dutch government lifted the production cap that had just been introduced for Dutch coal-fired power plants. Imports of Russian coal have been banned since August.

More coal was therefore imported from the USA, South Africa, Australia and Colombia. Biomass throughput rose by 13.7%. Other dry bulk fell by 14.2%.

The main causes are stockpiling due to the uncertainty of supply lines, and high prices for the shipping of containers: cargo that can also be transported in bulk, such as industrial minerals and fertilisers, is therefore being transported in this way more often.

The volume of liquid bulk grew by 4.0% to 212.8 million tonnes. The 5.9% increase in crude oil was attributable to two factors. The first was higher crude oil throughput.

Early in the year, this consisted of Russian crude oil, to India in particular. Late in the year, it comprised crude oil on its way to Poland and Germany, replacing oil previously delivered by pipeline from Russia.

The second cause was that the refineries in Rotterdam and the hinterland processed a lot of crude oil. Refineries in Northwest Europe switched to non-Russian oil (particularly from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Angola, Nigeria and Norway).

Because that oil comes from distant locations, the number of supertankers (very large crude carriers) increased from 27 in 2021 to 156 in 2022.

The 10.8% decline in the throughput of oil products was mainly due to the structural fall in the imports and re-exports of fuel oil and the sanctions targeting Russia.

LNG rose by 63.9%. There was very strong demand for LNG as an alternative to the natural gas entering Europe by pipeline from Russia. 30% of the LNG came from the USA in 2022. It is noteworthy that an LNG vessel also arrived from Australia.

There were three reasons for the 15.3% increase in other liquid bulk. First of all, there was a shift from transport by tank container to transport by chemical tanker. In addition, there was more additional stockpiling at buyers due to logistical difficulties.

In this way, in a context of disrupted transport chains, they ensured that they had enough supplies of raw materials. Finally, there was a substantial increase in renewable products, particularly bioethanol.

Container throughput fell by 5.5% in TEU and by 9.6% in tonnes. The difference between the two was due to a sharp increase in arrivals of full containers from Asia in the first nine months of the year because of high demand for consumer goods.

At the same time, exports declined and so many more empty containers were shipped back. The container sector was still affected by disruptions in the logistics chain in 2022 due to strong demand for transport in combination with difficulties associated primarily with lockdowns (COVID-19) and capacity issues.

That resulted in overcrowded terminals and distribution centres in the port and hinterland, and uncertainty about delivery times.

Transshipment cargo in particular therefore moved to other ports where capacity was still available. Cargo volume to the hinterland was higher in 2022.

However, the main explanation for the decline in container throughput was the war in Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions targeting Russia. Before the war, over 8% (in TEU) of Rotterdam container traffic was related to Russia.

Rotterdam had a 40% market share in this traffic. These volumes all but disappeared after March. In the fourth quarter, high inflation and lower consumption, in combination with high stocks, led to a further reduction in container throughput.

The consequence of all this was that the rates for container transport fell to pre-COVID levels and ships were increasingly able to sail on time by the end of the year.

Roll-on/roll-off traffic (RoRo) was 13.5% higher. This figure paints a slightly rosy picture because of the end of the Brexit transition period on 1 January 2021. That led to additional transport in late 2020 and a dip in RoRo transport in early 2021.

Other break bulk was 10.4% higher. A major factor was the increase in imports of steel and non-ferrous metals.

The sharp rise in energy prices made European industrial production relatively expensive, with a subsequent increase in imports of steel and non-ferrous metals from, among other places, Asia, where demand was low due to COVID-19.

In addition, high container rates meant that, as in the ‘other liquid bulk’ sector, more cargo was shipped as break bulk.

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