The range of annual throughput volumes shown for those ports ranked in Europe's Top 10 container ports spans a big divide - from 6.3m with Rotterdam in the number one slot down to Barcelona with nearly 1.4m in 10th position.
There is a common denominator, however, in that with two exceptions every port has achieved an annual growth of over 5% and indeed seven of these eight ports have registered not just an increase higher than 5% but also a double figure increase. Overall, there is little doubt that the year 2000 - millennium year - was a bonanza year for the majority of European container ports, the like of which many will not see again for some time.
One of the major exceptions to this rule is Rotterdam. While it has maintained its number one position in Europe, with a big gap between it and second-placed Hamburg, it has lost its 1999 ranking of fourth position in global terms and slipped down to the number five position in this premier league. Indeed, Rotterdam clearly acknowledges its problems and puts them down to three key factors - the movement of volumes elsewhere by Maersk Sealand, general capacity problems and organisational restructuring at ECT, the largest terminal operator by a mile in Rotterdam and one of the largest in Europe.
On the upside, however, the port is confident that it can solve these problems and relatively quickly. William Scholten, chairman, Rotterdam Municipal Port Management, pointed out earlier this year that container throughput has continued to develop in line with the highest growth forecasts for the past seven years and that he expects at least part of the diverted cargo to come back to the port this year.
He also stressed that in his view there is no lack of confidence in Rotterdam and that a good indicator of this is the construction of the Fls1.4bn ($583m) P&O Nedlloyd/ECT terminal scheduled to get underway this year.
The second somewhat poorer performance, than might have been anticipated by many analysts, is that of the Hutchison Port of Felixstowe with a moderate 4% increase, which places it in fourth position in Europe and, for the sake of interest, 15th in world terms, down one place. Felixstowe lost volume to its competitors over the year and has suffered principally as the result of this.
Elsewhere, however, as indicated, it is good news all the way including for those ports ranked below the number 10 position in "the next five". Everyone, with the exception of Le Havre and La Spezia, registered double figure increases in throughput with Bremerhaven up 24% at the top end of the scale and Algeciras with a still very healthy 10% at the bottom.
Second-ranked Hamburg, the major port in northern Europe for handling Far East cargo, achieved a handsome 14% increase in container throughput with a total of 4,248,247 teu.
It has also managed to maintain this trend in the first half of 2001 noting that: "Whereas growth in containers handled in northern Europe slumped from an average of 9.1% in 2000 to 4.1% in the first half of 2001, Hamburg's container terminals achieved an 11.8% advance - amounting to 2,258,900 teu".
Underpinning this positive trend, is what the port describes as, "...the acquisition of a number of new liner services that have decisively boosted Hamburg's market share."
"This applies especially," it explains, "to traffic with North America and Asia. The range of liner services on routes between Hamburg and North America," it says, "has been decisively improved since autumn 2000 with the addition of the 'Butterfly services' operated by the Grand Alliance consortium." On routes between Hamburg and Asia it points out that the replacement of 4,000 teu ships with larger vessels, with capacities between 5,000 and 6,800 teu, has been implemented and that this together with new liner services to/from the Middle East has produced a growth in volume of 5.1%.
Over the years, the third- ranked Port of Antwerp, with a volume of 4,082,344 teu, has inched closer to the Port of Hamburg and, while in percentage increase terms this was not the case in 2000, the prospect of this is still there for the medium to long term future. Indeed, the Port of Antwerp points out that its "maritime container turn-over has increased by a quarter over the last two years and that it has more than doubled over the last seven years". Further, the port points out that in teu volume terms it is now eight years ahead of traffic forecasts made six years ago and used for the purposes of planning the construction of its new container dock on the left bank.
There is a significant gap in volume terms between the Port of Antwerp and Felixstowe, in fourth place with 2,800,000 teu, and effectively this has widened with, as already indicated, the latter port being one of the poorer performers in 2000.
On the other hand, the gap between Bremerhaven in fifth position and Felixstowe has narrowed following the "storming" 24% increase achieved by Bremerhaven. Instead of this being nearly 500,000 teu, as it was in 1999, the difference is now just below 60,000 teu and whether it is this year or next, and even taking into account the possibility of a full blown economic recession, Bremerhaven must fancy its chances of leap-frogging Felixstowe soon.
Gioia Tauro is the first Mediterranean container port to appear in the ranking and one of four to occupy positions in the bottom half of the Top 10.
Gioia Tauro's short history has basically been one of growth, growth and more growth and the year 2000 was no exception with an 18 % increase being recorded up to 2,652,701 teu. It weathered the prospect of new competition from the new P&O Ports hub of Cagliari particularly well as so far there have been no major lines willing to sign up to use this new hub and indeed this situation has gone on so long that there are now apparently serious discussions underway between P&O Ports and CMA CGM regarding the latter party taking over the concession. Suffice it to say that Gioia Tauro, together with Malta Freeport, its main competitor in the region, had a very satisfactory year in 2000.
Since this time, however, Gioia Tauro has seen the withdrawal of substantial volumes of Evergreen business as this liner operator has moved to its own newly developed hub in Taranto and this will inevitably effect the present year's performance. Indeed, the Eurogate group, a major shareholder in the terminal and operator of various terminals in Europe, north and south, has already issued a warning about the possibility of a reduced group-wide performance this year. This aside, however, Gioia Tauro has picked up new business from elsewhere and is continuing with its efforts to develop its role as a gateway port for Italy and other European countries through significant investments in interfacing intermodal rail systems.
Algeciras, ranked seventh beneath Gioia Tauro, is also a transhipment hub, but one used almost exclusively by Maersk Sealand. It was doubtless very pleased with its 2000 performance following on as it did from a virtually static year in 1999 and the realisation that Maersk Sealand was somewhat spreading its wings in the Mediterranean as a whole.
Maersk Sealand now owns a minor equity stake in Gioia Tauro, is developing a major new hub at East Port Said in Egypt under the auspices of the Suez Canal Container Company and has also expressed an interest in developing a new hub in the Italian port of Genoa.
Basically, this scenario, if brought fully to fruition, would give it two hubs in the western sector of the Mediterranean, Algeciras and Genoa, a strong position at Gioia Tauro in the central Mediterranean and a new high-capacity hub in the eastern Mediterranean in Egypt where it is in partnership with ECT.
As might be expected, therefore, with this scenario in the background and its own commercial aspirations Algeciras has begun to develop its options for the future; the first element of which is to appoint a new operator at the old Sealand terminal at its Isla Verde quay.
Earlier this year, the Port Authority of Algeciras announced that the company Ingeneria y Gerencia (Inger) had won this concession and would develop, manage and operate it as a fully fledged common user terminal.
Inger is 60%-owned by Acciona, one of Spain's leading construction, telecommunications and services corporation, and 40% by the Terminales Maritimas Layetanas-TCB Group, which is involved, in container terminal operations in Barcelona, Tenerife, Paranagua, Brazil and Cuba.
Genoa, in the number eight ranking, like Bremerhaven had a stunning year 2000 with throughput jumping by some 22% up to 1,500,632 teu from 1,233,817 teu the year before.
It was effectively catch-up time for Genoa with the port and major terminal operators, including the PSA Corp managed and operated Voltri Terminal, out to win back business it had lost earlier and to secure new trade volumes.
It set itself some tough goals and undoubtedly pricing issues came into its success formula but the port nevertheless succeeded and has managed to stay on the expansion trail in the first half of 2001 with volume rising by some 8.4% to 780,328 teu.
Also at a capacity level, as well as the possibility of Maersk Sealand establishing a brand-new terminal in the port, the port authority reports that there are plans to develop all three of its existing container facilities, Voltri Terminal Europa, the Southern European Container Hub and the Messina terminal.
The Port of Le Havre, which expects significant container traffic growth to get underway in the port once its Port 2000 project comes on-stream offering high capacity container terminals more suited to modern requirements, identifies the comparatively low value of the euro as a helpful factor behind its moderate traffic increase - exports made the major contribution to this.
"Tail end Charlie" of the Top 10 is the Port of Barcelona. Interestingly, Barcelona managed the same percentage growth as its traditional competitor, the Port of Valencia, in 2000 and therefore managed to stave off its challenge yet again.
Valencia is, however, knocking on the door of the Top 10.
While, however, Valencia's growth was partly transhipment traffic, Barcelona identifies the main source of its increase as traffic to and from the hinterland which took place on a virtually balanced basis.
Exports increased by some 12.54% and imports by 12.75%.
LLoyd's List, Special Report-Top 10 European Ports,
26/09/01, Mike Mundy