Maritime transport and ports | Kustportaal

Maritime transport and ports

More than 80% of global trade (in volume) is transported by sea, accounting for 11 billion tonnes of goods in 2018. On 1 January 2018, the world trade fleet consisted of 135,682 vessels with a total dead-weight tonnage (DWT) of 1.9 billion (UNCTAD).

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 Van de Velde et al. 2014). Within these zones, shipping has priority over other activities. Since 1 June 2017, new shipping routes have been applicable within Belgian and Dutch waters that take into account the current and future development of wind farms, in order to maintain and promote safety at sea.

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 2018, total cargo traffic in the Le Havre-Hamburg range amounted to 1.211 billion tonnes, of which Antwerp accounted for 235.2 million tonnes, followed by Zeebrugge (40.1 million tonnes), North Sea Ports Flanders (Ghent) (32.6 million tonnes) and Ostend (1.5 million tonnes) (Merckx 2019).

This high economic activity creates a high economic added value. The total added value of the Flemish ports amounted to 31 billion euros in 2017, with a distinction being made between direct (17.4 billion euros) and indirect (13.8 billion euros) added value. The port of Antwerp generates the highest direct added value and accounts for 11.5 billion euros, followed by North Sea Port Flanders (4.4 billion euros), Zeebrugge (over 1 billion euros) and Ostend (0.5 billion euros) (Gueli et al. 2019; Merckx 2019). The inland seaports (Liège and Brussels) account for a relative share of 6.3% (2.0 billion euros) of the total Belgian ports (Gueli et al. 2019).

In 2017, total employment in the Flemish seaports amounted to 233,573 full-time equivalents (FTE), of which 104,612 were direct FTEs. Antwerp is also the most important Flemish port in terms of employment and accounts for about 63.9% of the people employed in the sector, followed by Ghent (27.7%), Zeebrugge (5.7%) and Ostend (2.7%) respectively (Gueli et al. 2019; Merckx 2019).

More info see theme text ‘Maritime transport, shipping and ports’ of the Compendium for Coast and Sea and the publication ‘CoastalINsight2019’ (Dutch). 


Marine Spatial Planning
Ship and cargo traffic
Socio-economy ports