Maritime ports freight and passenger statistics
From Statistics Explained
- Data from March 2013. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
This article analyses the latest statistical data on freight handling and passenger traffic in ports in the European Union (EU). The total weight of goods handled in EU ports is estimated at 3.7 billion tonnes in 2011, a rise of 1.7 % compared with 2010. The United Kingdom reclaimed its position as the largest maritime freight transport country in Europe, after falling behind the Netherlands in 2010.
Main statistical findings
Continued recovery in volume of goods handled in EU ports
There were continued year-on-year increases in EU port activity in the first three quarters of 2011. However, this recovery came to an end in the fourth quarter of 2011, interrupting a pattern of growth which goes back to the first quarter of 2010 (Figure 1).
The growth in EU port activity in 2011 was mainly due to increased volumes in inward movement of goods. Despite the annual increases in the gross weight of goods handled in EU ports following the economic downturn, overall port activity in the EU was still lower in 2011 than the level recorded 6 years earlier, in 2005 (Table 1).
Rotterdam, Antwerpen and Hamburg maintained their positions as the three largest EU ports in 2011, both in terms of the gross weight of goods and the volume of containers handled in the ports. The 20 largest ports accounted for 37.0 % of the total tonnage of goods handled in the countries reporting data in 2011. Rotterdam on its own accounted for 8.6 % of the total tonnage (Table 3).
The number of passengers passing through EU ports is estimated at more than 385 million in 2011, a decrease of 3.5 % compared with 2010. The main reason for this fall is a reduction in the numbers of passengers embarking and disembarking in Italy and Greece, the EU’s two leading countries for seaborne passenger transport (Table 6).
UK: largest maritime freight transport country in Europe
Port activity grew in most European countries in 2011. The largest increases were recorded in Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia, all with rises of more than 10.0 % in the tonnage of goods handled in their ports compared with 2010 (from relatively low levels). In contrast, decreases in port activity were recorded in the Netherlands (-8.7 %), Malta (-7.1 %), Cyprus (-5.6 %) and Poland (-3.0 %). Port activity in the acceding state of Croatia also decreased from 2010 to 2011 (-10.1 %).
At 519 million tonnes, the United Kingdom (UK) handled the largest volumes of seaborne goods in 2011, reclaiming its position as the largest maritime freight transport country in Europe. The volume of seaborne goods handled in UK ports in 2011 represented 14.0 % of the EU-27 total. The UK was followed by Italy and the Netherlands, with shares of 13.5 % and 13.3 %, respectively. Spain remained the fourth largest maritime freight transport country in the EU in 2011 and France the fifth largest. Ports in the candidate country Turkey handled 359 million tonnes of goods in 2011, placing it between France and Spain.
Inward movement of goods increased by 2.8 % in 2011 and accounted for over 62 % of the total tonnage of goods handled in EU-27 ports. Considerable inward volumes of liquid bulk goods, such as crude oil and oil products, account for much of this inward tonnage.
In general, more seaborne goods are unloaded than loaded in the majority of EU countries. Cyprus had the highest share of total tonnage unloaded in 2011, followed by the Netherlands and Malta. However, for Romania (agricultural products), the three Baltic countries (oil products) and the EEA country Norway (crude oil), outward movement of goods prevailed.
Liquid bulk accounted for 39 % of total tonnage
Liquid bulk goods accounted for 39.0 % of the total tonnage of cargo handled in the main EU-27 ports in 2011, followed by dry bulk goods, containerised goods and Ro-Ro mobile units (Table 2). The largest tonnage of liquid bulk goods was handled in UK ports (230 million tonnes), followed by the Netherlands (223 million tonnes) and Italy (210 million tonnes). Estonia recorded the highest share of liquid bulk goods as a percentage of the total tonnage of goods handled in the main ports (reflecting large volumes of outward movements of oil products from Russia). Dutch ports’ handling of dry bulk goods was by far the largest in the EU in 2011 (140 million tonnes), but only a little higher than the candidate country Turkey (137 million tonnes).
Container transport was the dominant type of cargo in Germany (44.0 %) and Belgium (41.0 %), while the largest volumes of goods in containers were handled in Germany (126 million tonnes) and Spain (128 million tonnes). The share of Ro-Ro units in the total tonnage of goods was highest for Denmark, Ireland and Sweden (all 27.0 %). However, in tonnage terms, the United Kingdom (97 million tonnes) and Italy (93 million tonnes) had the largest quantities of goods transported on Ro-Ro mobile units in 2011.
Rotterdam, Antwerpen and Hamburg remain top ports
Rotterdam, Antwerpen and Hamburg, all located on the North Sea coast, consolidated their positions as Europe's top three ports in 2010, both for the gross weight of goods (Table 3) and the volume of containers handled (Table 4). Europe’s largest port, Rotterdam, saw a fall of 6.4 % in the gross weight of goods handled from 2010 to 2011 (mainly due to reduced volumes of liquid bulk goods), while Antwerpen and Hamburg both reported increases in the total volume of goods handled in the same period. Most of the cargo handling in Rotterdam involves liquid and dry bulk goods such as oil, chemicals, coal and ores. However, Rotterdam is also Europe’s largest container port, handling almost 15 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2011, a substantial increase compared with 2010 (Table 4).
Container cargo accounted for more than half of the total tonnage of cargo handled in the more specialised ports of Antwerpen and Hamburg. The port of Hamburg handled a total of 9 million TEUs in 2011, overtaking Antwerpen as the second largest container port in Europe measured by the number of TEUs handled. After a gradual recovery in the last years, the port of Piraeus in Greece handled more TEUs in 2011 than before the economic downturn (Table 4).
Among the top 20 cargo ports, Bremerhaven in Germany reported the largest growth in gross weight of goods handled in 2011 (+21.6 %), followed by Taranto in Italy (+20.5 %) and Algeciras in Spain (+17.4 %). On the other hand, Amsterdam saw a substantial decrease in port activity in 2011 (-18.1 %), due to reduced tonnages of dry and liquid bulk goods (Table 3).
The most specialised among the top 20 cargo ports are Milford Haven in the UK, Bergen in Norway and Botas in Turkey (mostly liquid bulk goods), as well as Bremerhaven in Germany (mostly containers). While inward activity is prevalent in most of the top 20 ports, the ports of Bergen and Botas both handle substantial outward movements of crude oil. Bremerhaven also handles slightly more outwards movements of containerised goods than inwards movements.
The 20 largest ports accounted for 37.0 % of the total tonnage of goods handled in the countries reporting data in 2011 (EU-27, Croatia, Norway and Turkey), about the same as in 2010. Rotterdam alone accounted for 8.6 % of the total port activity in the reporting countries in 2011. Nine of the 20 top ports in 2011 are located on the North Sea coast, while eight are Mediterranean ports (Map 1). The remaining three are located on the Atlantic coast (two of which are on the Channel).
The composition of the port infrastructure will sometimes determine if a country is represented on the top 20 list of cargo ports or not. Denmark and Greece, for instance, are two countries with a high number of medium size ports (handling between 1 and 25 million tonnes of goods per year). However, there are no ports in these two countries above a 25 million tonnes threshold.
Increase in seaborne transport with extra-EU partners
Unlike statistics presented earlier in this article, the figures in Table 5 do not present the total handling of goods in ports (inwards movements plus outwards movements), but estimate the seaborne transport of goods between main ports and their partner ports (see data sources and availability). In 2011, 64.0 % of the EU-27 seaborne goods were transported to or from ports outside the EU, making maritime transport by far the most important mode for long distance transport of goods for the EU, in tonnage terms.
Map 2 illustrates the eight largest maritime transport flows to or from the EU. As shown in the map, all of the top eight transport flows were inward flows of goods, from the Baltic Sea region of Russia, Brazil, Norway, the East Coast of the United States of America (USA), Egypt, the Black Sea region of Russia, China and Turkey, respectively. In comparison, the ninth largest seaborne transport flow in 2011 was the outwards flow of goods from the EU to the East Coast of the USA.
In total, EU seaborne transport grew by 1.7 % from 2010 to 2011. International extra-EU transport grew by 3.5 % in the same period, while international intra-EU transport decreased by 3.3 %, reversing some of the growth in intra-EU transport seen between 2009 and 2010. National seaborne transport grew by 4.1 %.
In countries with a geography characterised by well-populated islands or long shorelines, like Greece, Italy, Denmark and Norway, the share of national seaborne transport is naturally high (20-30.0 %). Countries, like Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Finland and Sweden, on the other hand, have the highest shares of international intra-EU transport (more than 60.0 %), because their main transport partners are found within the EU. Other countries, like Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and the Netherlands, have high shares of extra-EU transport (above 70.0 %), based either on their geographical position or the "deep sea" nature of the transport activities prevailing in their main ports.
Continued decrease in maritime passenger transport
In contrast to the recent developments in maritime transport of goods, seaborne transport of passengers continued to decline in 2011 (Table 6). The total number of passengers passing through EU-27 ports is estimated at 385 million in 2011 (inwards movements plus outwards movements), a drop of 3.5 % compared to the previous year.
Unlike goods movements (where broadly 2/3 of goods are unloaded and 1/3 loaded), the difference between the numbers of passengers embarking ("outwards") and disembarking ("inwards") in European ports is small. This reflects the fact that seaborne passenger transport in Europe is mainly done by national or intra-EU ferry connections, causing the same passengers to be counted twice in the statistics (when they embark and when they disembark).
Close to 82 million passengers were embarked and disembarked in Italian ports in 2011, confirming Italy as the leading seaborne passenger transport country in Europe. Italy was followed by Greece, with 79 million passengers. However, both the main maritime passenger countries recorded quite considerable decreases in the number of passengers passing through their ports in 2011.
While cruise passengers represented 3.0 % of the total number of passengers in EU-27 ports, they are important to the ports they visit. Three countries, Italy, Spain and the UK, accounted for over 70.0 % of the total cruise passengers reported by countries.
The top 20 passenger ports accounted for 38.0 % of the total number of passengers embarking and disembarking in the countries reporting data in 2011 (Table 7). Dover in the UK, situated on the Channel, remained the largest passenger port in Europe, with close to 13 million seaborne passengers passing through the port facilities in 2011. The Italian ports of Reggio Di Calabria and Messina and the Greek port of Piraeus recorded the largest decreases in number of passengers in 2011, while the Spanish port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife recorded the largest increase.
The figures in Table 7 show that some ports have experienced quite substantial decreases in the number of seaborne passengers over time. These changes are typically caused by openings of new bridge connections and subsequent closure of ferry links. Increased use of the Channel tunnel and rapid growth in low cost flights are other factors having effects on the number of seaborne passengers.
Most passengers are ferried in Italy and Greece
Table 8 shows the breakdown of seaborne passenger transport (excluding cruise passengers) between national, international intra-EU and international extra-EU transport for each reporting country. As in Table 5, these figures are calculated on the basis of the statistics declared by main ports vis-à-vis their partner ports. Unlike the statistics shown in tables 6 and 7, however, these figures do not reflect the total embarkation and disembarkation of passengers in ports, but estimate the transport of passengers between ports (see also data sources and availability).
The volume of seaborne passenger transport in main EU-27 ports decreased by 4.7 % from 2010 to 2011, which was about the same as between 2009 and 2010. The sustained fall in European maritime transport of passengers in recent years has mainly been caused by decreased transport to or from ports in a number of the largest maritime transport countries, such as Italy, Greece, the UK and France.
The number of seaborne passengers transported to or from the main ports of Italy fell by 8.0 % to 41 million passengers in 2011, while the volume of seaborne passenger transport with Greek ports fell by 7.1 % to 39 million passengers. The corresponding decreases were -5.9 % in France (to about 23 million passengers) and -3.2 % in the United Kingdom (to about 24 million passengers). In contrast, the volume of seaborne passengers recorded in the main ports of several other of the large maritime passenger countries increased or was relatively stable in 2011.
More than half of the seaborne passenger transport in the EU countries is carried out between national ports. In general, countries with busy ferry connections and well-populated islands tend to have both a large volume of maritime passenger transport and a high share of national passenger transport by sea.
This applies to the two leading maritime passenger transport countries, Italy and Greece, as well as countries like Malta and Portugal. On the other hand, countries with major regular ferry connections to other EU countries, like Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Finland and the UK, naturally have high shares of international intra-EU transport.
As in previous years, Spain and Denmark recorded the highest shares of extra-EU passenger transport in 2011. This is mainly due to the geographical position of the countries, with Spain having links with Morocco and Denmark with Norway.
Increased average size of vessels calling in main EU ports
The number of vessel calls in the main EU-27 ports (excluding French ports) was just above 2 million in 2011, about the same as in 2010 (Table 9). The corresponding gross vessel tonnage (GT) increased by 3.0 %, however, confirming the trend towards larger average size of vessels making port calls in recent years. The average size of vessels calling in EU ports in 2011 was just above 7 300 GT.
Data sources and availability
According to the Directive, “main ports” are ports handling more than 1 million tonnes of goods or 200 000 passengers annually. More data are to be collected for “main ports” than for other ports. However, additional data may also be included by countries for smaller ports on a voluntary basis.
Moreover, because of normal fluctuations in port activity, the thresholds are not automatically applied on a yearly basis to maintain the consistency of the series over time.
Data are collected at the level of a “statistical port”. A statistical port consists of one or more ports, normally controlled by a single port authority, able to record ship and cargo movements.
Explanatory notes for tables Basic results and derived indicators (such as growth rates and shares in % of total) in the tables are rounded. However, the figures are based on the non-rounded original data. As a result, the sum of shares in % of total, as shown in the tables, is not necessarily equal to 100%.
Due to legal derogations granted to Member States, data referring to the period 1997–1999 are not complete for all aspects at EU-15 level. In general, data for the countries, which entered the EU in 2004 and 2007, are available starting with the reference year 2001 to 2003. As a consequence the geographical coverage of the data for the period 1997–2002 is not complete at the EU-27 level.
The EU-27 aggregate refer to total figures for the 22 Member States that have maritime ports. CZ, LU, HU, AT and SK have no maritime ports. IS and NO provide data as members of the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA member LI has no maritime ports. The acceding state of HR and the EU candidate country TR provide data on a voluntary basis.
As data are not available for IS for 2007-2011, a special aggregate EEA-IS+HR+TR is used in this article to facilitate the comparability of certain time series.
Explanatory notes for countries are available in the metadata on the Eurostat website.
Table 1: Estonian data up to and including 2004 refer to main ports only. From 1997 to 1999 Greek data refer to main ports only. Data for Spain refer to main ports only. Croatia started to report data on seaborne transport in 2000, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovenia in 2001, Cyprus in 2002 and Malta in 2003.
Tables 2, 3 and 4: The category “large containers” includes containers having a length of 20 feet or more. Smaller containers are included in the category “other cargo, not elsewhere specified”. There may be some inconsistencies concerning the registration of containers. However, in most cases data are limited to lift-on lift-off containers.
Tables 5 and 8: In order to estimate maritime transport of goods/passengers, the problem of "double counting" (the transport of the same cargo of goods/passengers being declared by both the port of loading/embarking – as outwards – and the port of unloading/ disembarking – as inwards) has to be addressed. As far as possible, adjustments are made when estimating the "national transport" of individual countries and "international intra-EU-27 transport" of the EU-27. The figures shown as "national transport" for the EU-27 are simply based on the sum of the national transport of the Member States. In other words, the sum of the national and international intra-EU-27 transport of the EU-27 would represent the "national transport of the EU-27", if the EU-27 was treated as one country. All the other figures (international intra-EU-27 transport for individual countries and international extra-EU-27 transport) are based on the sum of inward and outward declarations.
Table 6: Data include (cruise and non-cruise) passengers starting and ending a voyage: in principle cruise passengers on excursion (transit) are excluded. From 2004 to 2007 Slovenia only provided the total number of passengers. There is no data for Germany for 1997-1999 (legal derogation). Estonian data up to and including 2004 refer to main ports only. Data for Spain refer to main ports only. The Netherlands and Portugal only provide the number of non-cruise passengers (“ferry passengers”). For 1997, only minor ports in Portugal were reporting.
Croatia started reporting passenger data in 2000, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovenia started reporting in 2001, Cyprus in 2002, Malta in 2003 and Romania in 2007.
Table 7: Data include (cruise and non-cruise) passengers starting and ending a voyage: cruise passengers on excursion (transit) are excluded. There are no data available for German ports up to and including 1999. Estonia started to report passenger data in 2001.
Table 8: See above (Table 5).
Table 9: The detailed data necessary for the compilation of this table is not available for France from 2009 and for the Irish port of Rosslare up to and including 2008.
Special symbols used in the tables
':' not available
'-' not applicable
This article presents the latest trends in freight and passenger transport in European Union (EU) ports and also includes figures for Norway, Croatia and Turkey. The content is based on data collected within the frame of the EU maritime transport statistics Directive, i.e. Directive 2009/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 May 2009 on statistical returns in respect of carriage of goods and passengers by sea (OJ L141 of 6.6.2009, page 29), which is a recast of the original Council Directive 95/64 (EC) of 8 December 1995.
- Freight transport statistics
- Freight transport statistics - modal split
- Maritime transport of goods - quarterly data
- Passenger transport statistics
Further Eurostat information
- Continued recovery in volume of goods handled in EU ports - Statistics in focus 7/2013
- The Netherlands emerged as the largest maritime freight country in the EU - Statistics in focus 12/2012
- European port activity in 2009 hit by the general economic crisis - Statistics in focus 65/2010
- General economic crisis hits European port activity - Statistics in focus 11/2010
- Short Sea Shipping of Goods - 2008 - Data in focus 26/2010
- Transport, see:
- Maritime transport (t_mar)
- Sea transport of goods (ttr00009)
- Transport, see:
- Maritime transport (mar)
- Maritime transport - Main annual results (mar_m)
- Maritime transport - Short Sea Shipping - Main annual results (mar_s)
- Maritime transport - Passengers (mar_pa)
- Maritime transport - Goods (mar_go)
- Maritime transport - Vessel traffic (mar_tf)
- Maritime transport - data aggregated at standard regional levels (NUTS) (mar_rg)
Methodology / Metadata
- Maritime transport (ESMS metadata file - mar_esms)
- Directive 2009/42/EC of 6 May 2009 on statistical returns in respect of carriage of goods and passengers by sea (Recast)
- Directive 1995/64/EC of 8 December 1995 on statistical returns in respect of carriage of goods and passengers by sea
- Illustrated Glossary for Transport Statistics - 4th edition