Throughput in the Port of Rotterdam in 2021 matched the pre-pandemic level of 2019. Almost all goods types were up on last year. The increase in total throughput was 7.3 per cent compared to 2020 and a record number of 15.3 million TEU containers were handled, up 6.6 per cent compared to the previous year.

An increase in revenue and lower costs led to an operating result before interest, depreciation and taxes of € 512.2 million (2020: € 477.5 million).

Allard Castelein, CEO of the Port of Rotterdam Authority: ‘In terms of throughput volume, the port is back to its pre-corona level. Companies in the container sector in particular performed excellently, handling a record number of containers despite all the problems this sector faced worldwide last year. We are now investing in the construction of additional terminal capacity on the Maasvlakte to further facilitate the container sector. I am also optimistic in other respects.’

He adds: ‘A range of organisations in the port made considerable progress last year in the area of the energy transition. For example, on the Caland Canal, a shore power facility was installed for seagoing vessels and work began on the construction of a large biofuel plant. We are also expecting investment decisions for several energy transition projects this year, either by ourselves or other parties. That means the transition is progressing well. Together, the ongoing energy transition projects of the companies in the Rotterdam port area can account for as much as 35 per cent of Dutch carbon reduction by 2030. Imports of hydrogen for industry in Rotterdam and elsewhere will come on top of that. A green industrial policy is needed to help implement all those projects. Working with government and industry, we can innovate in industry and achieve the climate goals.’

Also read: Port of Rotterdam: Fifteen per cent of transshipment is Russia-related

Cargo throughput: dry and liquid bulk

Total cargo throughput at the port in 2021 was at the same level as in 2019, the last year before the corona pandemic. Compared with 2020, throughput rose by 7.3 per cent to 468.7 million tonnes. All goods segments were up in response to the recovery of the economy, with the exception of agricultural bulk. That segment is always driven more by good and bad harvests, with regional price differences and trade flows as a consequence.

Overall, dry bulk cargo throughput in 2021 was 23.4 per cent higher than in 2020 and 5.6 per cent higher than in 2019. Liquid bulk cargo throughput in 2021 was 6.6 per cent higher than in the previous year but 3.1 per cent less than in 2019.

Brexit and break bulk

The end of the Brexit transition period led to a dip in RoRo transport to and from the United Kingdom early in the year. That picked up again later, leaving the total RoRo volume at a level similar to the past two years. After years of growth in the RoRo sector, this form of transportation is now stable. Brexit would seem to be the main factor.

There was considerable growth in the category of other break bulk due to, among other things, the rise in throughput of steel and aluminium. This meant that growth in the break bulk category as a whole (RoRo and other break bulk) was 3.2 per cent compared with 2020 and 0.4 per cent compared with 2019.

Disruptions in container shipping

The pandemic led to the disruption of container logistics as factories and container terminals, particularly in China, were shut down more than once to reduce the number of infections. The consequence was that vessels, which already had more cargo to transport, regularly failed to arrive on time. In turn, containers were often left standing longer at terminals and so container sidings were very full. That did not help the efficiency of terminals worldwide. Shipping companies decided to call at fewer ports, and to load and unload more containers at each port to save time.

In Rotterdam, this led to ten per cent fewer visits by large container vessels. However, they unloaded an average of twenty per cent more containers on each occasion, increasing the pressure on the terminals. At the same time, the logistics sector, like every other, was plagued by employee absenteeism due to infection and quarantine measures. Against this backdrop, the fact that the Rotterdam container sector managed to set its container record was an excellent achievement.

Digitalisation improves logistics

The Port Authority is investing in digital infrastructure to make logistics chains that pass through Rotterdam even more efficient and sustainable. More than 125 operators now supply their data to the digital planning tool Routescanner. The use of this tool demonstrates that container logistics operators are increasingly looking for the most sustainable routes.

Inland navigation planning is also being improved further with the Nextlogic digital service. More and more operators are participating. The Quay Connect blockchain service, which was introduced in 2021, makes exporting to the UK more efficient and cheaper.

The Port Authority itself is also becoming increasingly digital. For example, the Harbour Master’s Division automated the Maritime Declaration of Health (MDoH). Previously, this declaration required 25,000 manual assessments annually.

Effective government policy needed

Together, the projects that are now in the pipeline as part of the energy transition will deliver a carbon reduction of 12 million tonnes at companies in the port and 11 million tonnes outside of the port, for example through the production of hydrogen and biofuels for the transport sector and aviation. That reduction of 23 million tonnes in total is 35 per cent of the total Dutch carbon reduction target for 2030.

Furthermore, the Port Authority is working with a range of partners on importing hydrogen for industry in Rotterdam and elsewhere. Imports of 1 to 2 million tonnes of hydrogen by 2030 are feasible and they will deliver an additional 10 to 20 million tonnes in carbon reduction.

Also read: Port of Rotterdam to pilot mobile shore-based power on hydrogen

To implement these projects, the Port Authority is engaged in discussions with a range of government authorities about an incentivising, effective government policy targeting nitrogen emission limits, the establishment of infrastructure for new and existing energy carriers, the smart use of levies, subsidies and obligations for companies, and, above all, the acceleration of action.

Safety and security

Turning to safety and security, there were no major incidents or accidents in the port in 2021, whether in shipping, on land or in terms of the security of ICT systems. However, the number of minor collisions did increase slightly.

Also read: Hasty mooring sees accidents in the Port of Rotterdam increase in 2021

Narcotics-related crime is an increasing problem for society as a whole, individual businesses and individuals. The Port Authority recognises this and it is tackling the issue in collaboration with the business community and the government agencies that are primarily responsible.

Air quality and carbon emissions

The reduction of emissions is a major challenge for the shipping sector. There are few sustainable, clean alternatives available. The Port Authority’s efforts will focus on reducing emissions by improving efficiency through, among other things, “port call optimisation”, the use of alternative fuels such as LNG, biofuels and methanol, and the introduction of shore-based power so that ships can turn off their generators when berthed.

Even more than in industry, international collaboration is needed here to introduce solutions. The European ‘Fit for 55’ initiative is delivering sound incentives in this respect.

There has been a steady downward trend for years in the emissions of particulate matter, NOx and SO2, among others. Over the past fifteen years (up to and including 2020), industry emissions of these substances have declined by about sixty per cent because the best available technology is always applied when renewing plants or permits. Carbon emissions from industry peaked in 2016 and fell by 27 per cent over the 2016-2020 period. During the same period, total Dutch carbon emissions declined by fourteen per cent. No figures are available yet for 2021.


Total cargo throughput in 2022 is expected to be at more or less the same level as in 2021, in line with the trend in recent years. It should be noted that the economy (including the global economy) may of course be affected to a major extent by the course of the corona pandemic and possible geopolitical developments.

In the container segment specifically, the expectation is that the disruption of logistics will continue for a long time in 2022, but that Rotterdam’s competitive position is favourable. As far as the energy transition is concerned, crucial steps can be expected in the area of building infrastructure for CO2 transport and storage, infrastructure for hydrogen, and the production of hydrogen and biofuels. The Port Authority will use its sound financial position to continue to invest in an efficient and sustainable port.

In 2022, container logistics worldwide are expected to continue to suffer from the problems mentioned here for quite some time. The main cause, the corona pandemic, is still with us and structural adjustments will take time. Shipping companies are building more vessels, but many of them will not be in service until 2023.

Also read: Rotterdam transhipment passes 15 million TEU containers for the first time

Last year, the Port Authority started on the construction of new quays for container terminals on Maasvlakte 2. In time, this will provide additional throughput capacity of approximately 5 million TEUs. The opening of the Container Exchange Route between the various terminals on the Maasvlakte will enhance efficiency. The Theemsweg route, which went into service last year, is a major improvement for the ninety to 100 freight trains that use the port railway line daily.