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Europe’s Northern Seaports still the most efficient gateway to the continent, concludes study

  • Northern Europe's ports remain the most efficient route for continents containerized trade, says study

  • NEA research determines economics and geography as the route to their success

Europe’s Northern Seaports continue to offer the most efficient route for container transport into mainland Europe, according to an independent transport research agency.

Dutch-based NEA concludes that seaports located in the North of Europe have four times the container throughput of the principle ports in the south of the continent.

The analysis determines that the distribution patterns underlying these shares is efficient, and is explained by a persistent combination of economic and geographical factors.

The analysis was carried out on behalf of the Ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg.

NEA identifies five major factors that contribute to the success of containerized transport destined for central Europe from the north.

Firstly, NEA explains that the cargo generation and attraction rates are higher in the Northern Continent. The distribution of economic activity suggests a natural split of 70% for the Northern half.

Secondly, Europe’s physical geography strengthens the position of the Northern ports. The Alps and the Rhine waterways form a natural barrier and a natural corridor respectively, extending the catchment area of the Northern ports towards Switzerland and Austria.

These two factors, volume and terrain, have assisted in the development of high capacity, low cost intermodal corridors being developed from the Northern range.

The third factor that NEA recognizes is the scale economies in the maritime networks linked to the Northern European ports that are extending their competitive hinterlands further to the South. Deployment of large container vessels is lowering costs between Northern ports and the Far East. Clustering of activity, scale economies and deep water at the North European main ports permits the use of ships with the lowest unit costs available.

The fourth advantage of Northern ports on the continent is their ability to combine transshipment and hinterland functions that contribute even further to the scale effect.

Finally, from an environmental perspective, large container ships emit fewer emissions in terms of CO2 per tonne kilometer. This advantage is applicable for the full 20,000 kilometer trajectory between China and Western Europe

While it might be expected that current distribution patterns are efficient in terms of minimizing internal costs, the study shows that including external costs within the optimization of traffic distribution does not radically change the picture. Both internal and external cost drivers are similar, for example distance, modal split, fuel economy, scale and load factors.

Considering both internal costs and external costs for a container arriving from the Far East via Suez, the Northern European ports have an advantage that reaches as far as the Southern German border.

The findings of the study indicate that on the maritime side, market forces already play an important role in creating incentives for low transport costs and lowering carbon emission rates per container unit. It shows that attention must focus on technology, fuels, and load factors as well as on port selection.


Staff Writer: Linton Nightingale

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