In the first quarter of 2022, vessels transported 42.6 million tonnes of goods on Belgian inland waterways, according to Statbel, Belgium’s statistics agency. This is a decrease of 1.4% compared to the previous quarter, but 9% more compared to 2021.
Container transport by inland waterways amounted to 5.1 million tonnes, down 1.8% from the previous quarter and 7.7% down from the year before.
Belgium’s inland waterways, made up of flatland canals in Flanders and winding rivers in Wallonia, make up a dense 1,600-kilometre network. In total, around 54 major waterways link Belgium to France and the Netherlands, as well as out into the English Channel and North Sea.
Flanders heavily relies on its inland waterways for shipping goods. 80% of all companies in Flanders are located fewer than 10 kilometres from a navigable waterway and many canals have been significantly improved to allow the passage of ships with a maximum capacity of up to 6,000 tonnes.
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Major inland shipping routes exist between Brussels and Antwerp, and towards the border to Maastricht and the rest of the Netherlands. The European Union is keen to promote the use of barges to ship goods within Europe, as they ultimately help reduce the number of vehicles on the roads.
As part of the European Commission's Watertruck+ initiative, the EU invested €7 million into the waterways in Belgium, improving the waterways and helping to avoid transhipment operations.
Since 2020, the total tonnage of goods shipped inland, including by foreign ships, has risen steadily after a significant decline in 2018. Since the third quarter of 2018, inland shipping in Belgium has increased by 18% and the total tonnage per kilometre travelled has increased by around 6%.