More than 80% of global trade (in volume) is transported by sea, accounting for 11 billion tonnes of goods in 2019. On 1 January 2020, the world trade fleet consisted of 98,140 vessels with a total dead-weight tonnage (DWT) of 2.1 billion (UNCTAD 2020).
In the Belgian part of the North Sea, the shipping routes for seagoing vessels are defined by the marine spatial plan (MSP, RD of 20 March 2014, see also Verhalle en Van de Velde 2020). Within these zones, shipping has priority over other activities. The current navigational routes in Belgian and Dutch waters have been applied since 1 June 2017, and are mainly necessary for the safety of the Belgian offshore wind farms on, and in the surroundings of, the Thornton Bank (no access for vessels) and to promote the safety of shipping and to limit the risk of collisions with possible environmental pollution as a result
Thorough spatial planning with attention to the safety aspect is an important factor given the location of the Belgian seaports and Scheldt ports at one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. In 2019, total cargo traffic in the Le Havre-Hamburg range amounted to 1.2 billion tonnes, of which Antwerp accounted for 238.5 million tonnes (Merckx 2020).
This high economic activity creates a high economic added value. The total added value of the Flemish ports amounted to 30.4 billion euros in 2019, with a direct added value of 17.4 billion euros. The port of Antwerp generates the highest direct added value and accounts for 11.2 billion euros, followed by North Sea Port Flanders (4.5 billion euros), Zeebrugge (1.1 billion euros) and Ostend (0.6 billion euros) (Merckx 2020).
In 2019, total employment in the Flemish seaports amounted to 239,049 full-time equivalents (FTE), of which 108,542 were direct FTEs. Antwerp is also the most important Flemish port in terms of employment and accounts for about 59.1% of the people employed in the sector, followed by Ghent (26.8%), Zeebrugge (9.2%) and Ostend (4.9%) respectively (Merckx 2020).
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