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The port of Rotterdam

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The port of Rotterdam

The port of Rotterdam is by far the largest deep-water port in Europe and also ranks among the top ten worldwide. One of the reasons is certainly its location in the delta of the Rhine and Meuse rivers and thus directly on the North Sea.

One difference to the other North Sea ports is the possible draught of 24 metres, which makes the port of Rotterdam accessible even to the giants of the seas. The port has a surface area of around 100 square kilometres, with an extension of just under 40 kilometres.

Development of the port of Rotterdam

In the beginning there was a fishing village on the Rotte. The small river gave Rotterdam its name and flows into the Meuse in the city area.

Those who are today in the city can have a view to the Hoogstraat that with its today 820 metres marked the division between land city and water city and therewith represented a kind of harbour boundary. In the first years since its origin in the 14th century, the harbour of Rotterdam was rather of regional significance and only in the course of the industrialisation, there was an increasing growth.

In the 19th century, the southern side of the Meuse, facing away from the city centre, was particularly relevant for port development. The Feijenoord district, with its world-famous football club, was where most of the dockworkers lived, while the port itself continued to grow from the north bank. A real milestone was the opening of the Nieuwe Waterweg, a 20 kilometre stretch of waterway linking the estuaries of the Rhine and Meuse with the North Sea, which was opened in 1872.

Only ten years later, the city of Rotterdam took over the port and ensured rapid expansion. Port facilities were offered for rent, as were loading cranes and storage areas, and could also be used on an hourly basis. This model proved to be immensely successful, so that the port was able to grow further.

In the 1920s, the Rijnhaven, Waalhaven and Maashave followed in the Port of Rotterdam and at the end of the decade the first settlements of the petrochemical industry followed, which would continue to shape the face of the port in the years to come. After the Europoort was built in the 1950s, Rotterdam became the largest port in the world in 1962. Especially the transport and direct processing of crude oil were and still are relevant.

In addition, capacities for bulk goods were also created in the area of Europoort, and the largest ships of this type can almost only anchor in the Dutch metropolis, which means that they mainly handle ore or grain. Especially in the post-war period, the port of Rotterdam benefited from the fact that the Rhine access road remained intact, which was continuously expanded for shipping.

A direct comparison with the port of Hamburg shows that, due to the division of Germany, the port soon lost the Elbe as its “hinterland” and thus suffered a locational disadvantage.

The port of Rotterdam in the past and present

The recent past is also characterised by container handling at the port of Rotterdam. The first containers were unloaded in 1966 and as early as 1967 the ECT (European Container Terminal) was put into operation in the Eemshaven. Since the 1980s, container ships have also landed on the Maasvlakte, an artificial island not far from the mouth of the Maas.

However, it became apparent that the constant expansion was no longer compatible with nature conservation and the interests of the local population, so that the port of Rotterdam disappeared further and further from the city centre. This was made more attractive by various development programmes, while the port is mainly located on the Maasvlakte and the second Maasvlakte, which is currently under construction.

Statistically speaking, the Port of Rotterdam remained the world’s number one port until into the 21st century and was first overtaken by Shanghai and Singapore a few years ago.

Port of Rotterdam figures

The figures that make up the port of Rotterdam are impressive. In 2018, the handling of sea freight amounted to almost 469 million tonnes, which represents a renewed slight growth compared to previous years.

The number of ships calling at the Port of Rotterdam each year is 30,000 in the maritime sector alone and 105,000 inland waterway vessels.

Around 320,000 people live in the Port of Rotterdam, which generates a proud seven percent of the Dutch gross domestic product. Above all oil is relevant for the port of Rotterdam, which is also due to the pipelines with direct access to the Ruhr area and to Antwerp. In addition, the port of Rotterdam is home to four large refineries and various companies from the oil and chemical industries are responsible for processing. The same applies to the gas companies and companies that trade directly in oil.

The Port of Rotterdam is also relevant for coal, fruit and vegetables and containers and is a European leader in all the above-mentioned areas. Remarkable is the perfect logistics with the possibility of transporting goods quickly to the hinterland via the motorways (2017: 56 percent of onward transport) as well as using the shipping routes across Europe via the Rhine, Main, Main-Danube Canal and Danube. Furthermore, it goes without saying that the port of Rotterdam also has a large freight terminal and a correspondingly large amount is transported by rail.

The Betuwe route from 2007 is particularly relevant here, linking Rotterdam to Zevenaar in the Gelderland region, from where it runs towards Emmerich and the Rhine-Ruhr region.

How is the port of Rotterdam managed?

The port of Rotterdam is managed by Havenbedrijf Rotterdam or the Rotterdam Port Authority. We are talking about a company with 1,200 employees that has a turnover of 710 million euros (2019).

The public limited company is not listed on the stock exchange and is owned 70 percent by the municipality of Rotterdam and 30 percent by the Dutch state. The company is divided into various departments, including financial and information management or even the port authority, health authorities, tourism, etc.

Innovations at the Port of Rotterdam

One of the plus points of the port of Rotterdam is its high innovative power. Since 2018, for example, hybrid ships have been increasingly used, resulting in significantly lower emissions during regular patrols.

Furthermore, Rotterdam has a so-called innovation ecosystem and promotes companies in the port area that want to position themselves as pioneers, especially in ecological terms. In Rotterdam, digitisation was pushed ahead decisively at an early stage, which is also demonstrated by the numerous “Port Forward” solutions.

The goal of CO2 neutrality was also issued and has since been pursued both in the area of infrastructure and energy generation. According to its own statements, Rotterdam wants to develop into a “waste-to-value hub”.

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