Port of Rotterdam operated at pre-corona level in 2021

24 February 2022
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Throughput in the port of Rotterdam in 2021 matched the pre-pandemic level of 2019. Almost all goods types were up on last year; one of the sharpest rises was the increase in the throughput number of containers. 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).

The Port Authority proposes to pay a dividend to the City of Rotterdam and the State of the Netherlands totalling € 122.7 million, € 2.1 million more than for 2020. After years of planning and technical preparations, the energy transition at the port is taking increasing shape. An investment decision was made last year for several projects, with decisions being planned for others in 2022.

  • Increase in total throughput of 7.3%
  • Record number of 15.3 million TEU containers
  • Good financial result for the Port of Rotterdam Authority; stable dividend for City of Rotterdam and the Dutch State
  • Implementation phase begins for major energy transition projects
  • Port important for general well-being of society and Dutch climate targets

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."

"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% 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."


The Port Authority has had a good year financially. Revenues rose by 2.6% to € 772.7 million, while operating expenses fell by 5.5% to € 260.5 million. The operating result before interest, depreciation and taxes (EBITDA) was 7.3% higher at € 512.2 million. Revenues from land lease were down slightly due to the one-off effects of price changes in 2020. Revenues from sea port dues rose due to the increase in throughput. The net result was € 247.2 million (2020: € 351.7 million). The difference is explained by a tax recalculation for future years due to the change in the corporate tax rate.

The change in 2020 was larger than in 2021 (2021: € 33.8 million; 2020: € 144.6 million). The normalised net result before the aforementioned tax effect in 2021 was € 213.4 million (2020: € 207.1 million). The figures include an impairment relating to the Container Exchange Route of € 24.7 million that related to the unmanned transport concept and the ICT systems for transport. The Port Authority is engaged in discussions with the parties involved on the Maasvlakte about the use of the physical track. It is proposed to pay the shareholders (70.83% City of Rotterdam, 29.17% the Dutch State) a total dividend of € 122.7 million (2020: € 120.5 million). In total, the Port Authority invested € 226.3 million in the development of the port (2020: € 265.7 million).

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% to 468.7 million tons. 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. Last year, high prices meant that the incoming volumes of soy and maize were lower. German steel production picked up sharply, leading to larger incoming volumes of iron ore, scrap metal and coal. However, the main reason for the sharp increase in incoming coal volumes was the high price of gas. That allowed coal-fired power plants to compete well with their gas-fired counterparts so that over 40% more coal was imported than in the previous year, and almost 10% more than in 2019. About 90% of all coal goes to Germany. Overall, dry bulk cargo throughput in 2021 was 23.4% higher than in 2020 and 5.6% higher than in 2019.

In the liquid bulk category, the upturn in the economy led to higher throughput of crude oil, oil products, LNG and other liquid bulk. The volume of crude oil and oil products did lag behind 2019. The increase in LNG was caused primarily by the higher gas prices in Europe, which led to more of this liquefied natural gas being transported to Europe. In the subcategory of other liquid bulk, there was an increase in the throughput of renewable products such as biodiesel, ethanol, SAF (sustainable aviation fuel, or renewable kerosene) and renewable naphtha (for the chemical industry). Overall, liquid bulk cargo throughput in 2021 was 6.6% higher than in the previous year but 3.1% 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% compared with 2020 and 0.4% compared with 2019.


The number of containers passing through the port of Rotterdam measured in TEUs (the standard measure for containers) was 15.3 million (an increase of 6.6% compared with 2020). Throughput in terms of the number of containers has never been higher in Rotterdam. A major reason for this is that the pandemic resulted in proportionally higher spending on goods than on services. For example, restaurants and theatres were closed for part of 2021 and people spent less on holidays involving air travel.

Arrival of the 15 millionth container of 2021 in Rotterdam
Arrival of the 15 millionth container of 2021 in Rotterdam (Photo: Jerry Lampen)

The pandemic also 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 10% fewer visits by large container vessels. However, they unloaded an average of 20% 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 this container record was an excellent achievement. It meant that the Port of Rotterdam was able to strengthen its market share relative to the other major container ports in Northwest Europe.

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. 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 90 to 100 freight trains that use the port railway line daily.

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.

Energy transition

The implementation of major projects requires patience and perseverance. Immediately after the Paris climate agreement was concluded, the Port Authority began to work seriously on the energy transition. Over five years later, a series of large, high-impact projects are in the final decision-making phase, both at the Port Authority and in the corporate sector. Recently, for example, the final contracts were signed with the four companies that will use the CO2 transport and storage system Porthos, a large shore facility was completed in the Caland Canal, and Shell started work on the construction of a large biofuel plant in Pernis. Investment decisions are expected this year for, among other projects, Porthos, the hydrogen pipeline through the port area, HyTransPort, and a first large green hydrogen plant on the Maasvlakte.

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% 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. 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. 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. As with aviation, 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.

Emissions from industry have been cut significantly in recent years. 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 60% because the best available technology is always applied when renewing plants or permits. Carbon emissions from industry peaked in 2016 and fell by 27% over the 2016-2020 period. During the same period, total Dutch carbon emissions declined by 14%. 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.