The port authorities of Antwerp and Zeebrugge today announced the completion of a merger that has been planned since 2019.
Jacques Vandermeiren, currently CEO of the Antwerp port authority, will head the new merged authority, while Annick De Ridder, Antwerp city councillor for port matters, become president. Dirk De fauw, mayor of Bruges and hitherto president of the port of Zeebrugge, becomes vice-president of the new unitary authority.
Talks aimed at synergy began at the end of 2019, and although they fell still during last year’s lockdown, the two sides always maintained there were no problems behind the lack of news.
More recently it became clear negotiations were in a final phase, and invitations went out this morning to the celebratory event. Not in the stunning Havenhuis on the waterside in Antwerp, as had once been hoped, but in the form of a Zoom event.
Calls for the merger of the two authorities go back years, from politicians and major port clients alike. But the former Antwerp CEO Eddy Bruyninckx was not in favour, while Zeebrugge feared they would be dwarfed in the partnership by the Antwerp juggernaut.
Under Vandermeiren, however, it became clear that working together would bring more benefits than working apart, and once that barrier was down, discussions moved swiftly and smoothly.
Each brings its specialisms to the table: Antwerp is huge in containers, piece goods, chemicals and warehousing, and handles ships and cargoes from all over the world.
Last year Antwerp handled 231 million tonnes of cargo, making it the second-largest in Europe (after Rotterdam), with the second-largest chemicals cluster in the world (after Houston). The city of Antwerp is the sole shareholder.
Zeebrugge, meanwhile, is concentrated on vehicles, gas and ro-ro traffic, and deals mainly with the UK and Scandinavia.
Zeebrugge handled 47 million tonnes of cargo last year, and is one of the largest vehicle ports in the world, as well as having a major terminal for liquid natural gas. The city of Bruges is majority shareholder.
This is not the first merger involving a Belgian port. In 2018 the port of Ghent merged with the Dutch ports of Vlissingen and Terneuzen in Zeeland to form North Sea Port.