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The Port of Rotterdam has reported that its freight throughput for 2019 was up just ‘fractionally’ at 469.4 million tonnes – but there were changes taking place beneath the surface with ‘significant underlying shifts' between the various commodities.

The throughput of crude oil, containers, LNG and biomass increased, whereas coal and mineral oil product throughput decreased. A rise in LNG and a drop in coal is very much in line with the ‘energy transition’ and the move to cleaner fuels. Indeed, talk of the ‘energy transition’ was a dominant theme of the Port of Rotterdam’s progress report for 2019.

Allard Castelein, the Port of Rotterdam Authority CEO, commented: ‘The Port of Rotterdam has matched the transhipment volume recorded in 2018. Of course, we are working hard to further increase our leading position and are investing heavily to achieve this. However, the success of a modern port cannot be measured by throughput tonnage alone. Our customers no longer just want increased throughput capacity, but demand a better, faster and, above all, smarter port. Equally crucial for the future is that industry succeeds in accelerating the energy transition so that the Port of Rotterdam can make a real impact towards achieving the Dutch climate objectives. To help make this happen we need a decisive and proactive government that works together with the business community.’

Total throughput of liquid bulk in 2019 was 211.2 million tonnes. Crude oil throughput exceeded 100 million tonnes for the fifth consecutive year and increased by 3.9%. Production expansion at the refineries in the Rotterdam region has played its part in boosting the throughput.

The throughput of mineral oil products fell as a result of lower imports and exports of fuel oil. There has been a downward trend on fuel oil for a few years – which intensified in 2019  in the run up to the IMO 2020 sulphur cap (and the resultant shift towards more MGO sales).

According to the Port of Rotterdam: ‘The increase in LNG throughput was mainly due to the import of a greater proportion of the gas produced around the Atlantic ocean into Europe, instead of being exported to Asia.’ Rotterdam has also seen significant growth in the volume of LNG being used for marine fuel (although it is still only a small part of the overall LNG picture). In the third quarter of 2019, 11,075 tonnes of LNG were supplied as marine fuel, compared to 3,165 tonnes in Q3 2019.

The Port of Rotterdam said that ‘the increase in other liquid bulk is accounted for by the import and export of biofuels, particularly biodiesel’. Again, Rotterdam has seen growing interest in the use of biodiesel as a marine fuel. Earlier this month, for example, Hapag-Lloyd announced that its ship Montreal Express was recently refuelled in Rotterdam with the ‘new, eco-friendly’ B20 biofuel.

Dry bulk throughput decreased by 4% to 74.5 million tonnes, which include a drop of almost 15% in coal. ‘The share of coal in Dutch and German power generation has decreased significantly as both countries are generating more power from solar, wind and gas,’ said the Port of Rotterdam. ‘Throughput of coking coal also came under pressure as a consequence of declining steel production in Germany.’

Biomass throughput increased by 62.8%, mainly due to the import of wood pellets for co-firing in coal-fired power plants.

Container throughput got off to good start in 2019, but the growth in the second half of the year was ‘almost negligible’. Overall for the year, container throughput for the year was up 2.1% at 14.8 million TEUs.


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