The results of the first quarter of 2021 in the port of Zeebrugge reflect a complex dynamic. Whilst the first quarter of 2020 aimed at breaking records, the first quarter in 2021 is mainly a recovery of the consequences regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit. LNG still accounts for a large part of the traffic volumes. Combined with a slow start at the beginning of the year, the final result after one quarter is -16.5%.
The decrease in the first quarterly figures of 2021 is mainly due to the lower volumes in liquid bulk (2,976,369 tonnes, - 46.8%) in Zeebrugge. The volume of LNG handled (2,499,050 tonnes) decreased by 50.4 % compared to the first quarter of 2020, 40 LNG vessels compared to 73. This decrease is linked to the LNG volumes of the Yamal contract, which were exceptionally high at the beginning of 2020 and resulted in record volumes.
After the New Year and the official application of the new Brexit formalities, traffic in Zeebrugge got off to a hesitant start. Gradually, however, volumes did get up to speed. In the last month of this quarter, there was a growth in several sectors. March shows a slight increase in roll-on/roll-off traffic: 2.8%. Container traffic is up by 26.3% compared to March 2020, and there is also a nice increase of 38.4% in solid bulk.
After the first three months, Zeebrugge's roll-on/roll-off traffic decreased by almost 7 percent to 3,556,346 tons. Unsurprisingly, there was a decline of traffics to the UK (-13.7%). Also linked to Brexit, there has been a sharp increase of 22.3% of traffics to Ireland. Southern Europe (+21%) and Scandinavia (+6%) have good traffic results as well.
In the handling of new cars, we note a growth over the first three months of 2021, but the quarter still ends with -7.8% (608,749 units compared to 660,312). However, the gradual growth shows that the automotive sector is in recovery.
With a total handling of 4,922,322 tonnes of containers, container traffic is doing well at the start of the year, with an increase of 11.1%. The number of containers in TEU is increasing + 15.3 %.
General cargo fell back by 20.7% to a volume of 136,874 tonnes.
Solid bulk increases by 11.9% to a volume of 416,192 tonnes.
Tom Hautekiet, CEO Port of Zeebrugge: "The results of the first quarter show that the two shock effects of Brexit even each other out. At the end of last year, there was a large increase in UK volumes. At the beginning of this year and after a very slow start right after the turn of the year, those traffics returned to their expected levels. The impact of the Covid-19 crisis, which struck in mid-March 2020, is hardly present in the figures of last year’s first quarter, while the consequences of that crisis are still visible in this past first quarter. The figures for March are very positive for the container sector, breakbulk volumes and roll-on/roll-off traffic in 2021. However, it is clear that we will not repeat the exceptional year of 2020 in liquid bulk."