Maritime freight and vessels statistics
Data extracted in December 2021.
Planned update: January 2023.
3.3 billion tonnes of freight were handled in EU ports in 2020.
The Netherlands remained the largest maritime freight transport country in Europe in 2020.
Rotterdam, Antwerpen and Hamburg maintained their positions as Europe's top 3 ports in 2020.
The average size of vessels calling at main EU ports is estimated at 6 900 gross tonnage per vessel.
Gross weight of seaborne freight handled in all ports, 2020 (tonnes per capita)
This article presents the latest statistical data on freight handling and vessels traffic in ports in the European Union (EU), the EFTA countries Iceland and Norway and the candidate countries Montenegro and Turkey. It also covers maritime transport flows with the main partner geographical areas, as well as individual results for major European ports. This article contains data for 2020.
Seaborne freight handled in European ports
The total gross weight of goods handled in EU ports was estimated at 3.3 billion tonnes in 2020, substantially decreasing compared to 2019 (-7.3 %). This substantial fall can most probably be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent restrictions put in place in the EU and worldwide. According to the latest figures, EU port freight activity seems to have resumed on a slight path towards recovery in 2014, a trend that was sustained in the first semester of 2019. However, the last two quarters of 2019 and all quarters of 2020 showed a negative evolution when comparing with the same quarters of the previous year. The second and third quarter of 2020 were particularly hit with decreases of -12.8 % and -8.0 %, respectively (Figure 1). After reaching a new peak in 2019, the gross weight of goods handled in EU ports in 2020 passed below the volumes handled in the years immediately preceding the economic downturn in Europe in 2009, with 58 million tonnes (-1.7 %) less than in the peak reached in 2007.
The Netherlands remained the largest maritime freight transport country in Europe in 2020, while Rotterdam, Antwerpen, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Algeciras, Marseille, Valencia and Trieste maintained their positions as the eight largest freight ports in the EU.
Among the EU Member States, the seaborne freight-per-capita ratio varied from 32.0 tonnes per inhabitant in the Netherlands to 2.3 tonnes per inhabitant in Poland in 2020. The EU average was 7.4 tonnes per inhabitant. However, the EFTA country Norway recorded the highest ratio of the countries reporting maritime data to Eurostat, with 41.4 tonnes per inhabitant in 2020 (Figure 2).
The Netherlands is EU’s largest maritime freight transport country
The Netherlands reported the largest volume of seaborne freight handled in Europe in 2020. At 558 million tonnes, the volume of seaborne goods handled in Dutch ports represented 16.8 % of the EU total in 2020. The Netherlands was followed by Italy and Spain, with respective shares of 14.1 % and 13.7 % (Figure 3).
Among other countries reporting maritime freight data to Eurostat, the candidate country Turkey handled 491 million tonnes of goods in 2020, placing this country between the Netherlands and Italy in terms of total tonnage of seaborne goods handled.
Compared to 2019, all EU Member States registered a fall in port freight activity in 2020 but three: Malta (+10.4 %), Croatia (+4.0 %) and Cyprus (+0.6 %). For Malta, the increase is mostly due to higher levels of dry bulk goods handled in relation to the rapid development of construction and transportation industry. In addition, the EFTA country Norway as well as the candidate countries Montenegro and Turkey also recorded a positive trend between 2019 and 2020 (+5.5 %, +0.4 % and +2.6 %, respectively). The largest relative decreases in port freight activity among the EU Member States were recorded by Latvia (-28.7 %), Bulgaria (-18.5 %), Slovenia (-17.2 %) and Romania (-11.1 %).
All in all, only eight Member States, recorded decreases in port freight activity in the ten-year period between 2010 and 2020. It has to be noted that 2010 was still impacted by the economic crisis that occurred in 2009. The highest relative falls were observed for Latvia (-28.3 %), Estonia (-18.0 %), France (-13.2 %) and Croatia (-12.0 %). In contrast, Malta registered the largest relative increase (+51.2 %), followed by Poland (+48.8 %), Greece (+38.2 %) and Lithuania (+36.1 %). Four other EU Member States registered growths higher than 20 % over the same period. Turkey also reported a noticeable increase by +45.1 %.
Inward movements of goods to the EU countries decreased by 8.9 % to less than 2.0 billion tonnes in 2020 compared to 2019, while outwards movements decreased by 4.8 % to less than 1.4 billion tonnes. Inward movements accounted for 58.8 % of the total tonnes of goods handled in the EU ports (Figure 4). Liquid bulk goods, such as crude oil and oil products, made up a substantial proportion of the inward tonnage.
More seaborne goods are unloaded from vessels than loaded onto vessels in the majority of EU countries. Malta and Cyprus had the highest shares of unloaded goods in 2020, with respective shares of 93 % and 72 % of the total tonnes of seaborne goods recorded as inward movements to their ports. In contrast, the three Baltic countries, Finland, Bulgaria, Romania, the EFTA countries Iceland and Norway as well as the candidate country Montenegro all had more outward movements of goods than inwards movements.
In 2020, liquid bulk made up 36.2 % of the total cargo handled in the main EU ports
Liquid bulk goods accounted for 36.2 % of the total cargo handled in the main EU ports in 2020 (Figure 5), followed by containerised goods (25.6 %), dry bulk goods (21.2 %), and goods transported on Ro-Ro mobile units (11.3 %). The largest volumes of liquid bulk goods were handled in the Netherlands (249 million tonnes), followed by Italy (182 million tonnes) and Spain (166 million tonnes). Croatia recorded the highest share of liquid bulk goods as a percentage of the total tonnages passing through its main ports in 2020 (58.8 %), mainly reflecting large volumes of inward movements of crude oil from Turkey.
With 113 million tonnes in 2020, Dutch ports also handled the largest volumes of dry bulk goods in the EU, followed by Spain with 84 million tonnes. Even so, the tonnages of dry bulk goods handled in both the Netherlands and Spain in 2020 were lower than the 197 million tonnes reported by Turkey. Malta had the highest share of dry bulk goods as a percentage of the total tonnages in 2020 (60.2 %), mainly reflecting large volumes of inward movements of construction materials to its ports.
Containers were the dominant type of cargo handled in Belgian, Slovenian and German ports in 2020, with shares of 44.7 %, 44.3 % and 42.9 %, respectively, of the total cargo passing through the ports of the three countries. The largest volumes of containerised goods, however, were handled in Spanish and Dutch ports, with 158 million tonnes and 134 million tonnes, respectively. The two top container countries were followed by Belgium with 120 million tonnes and Germany with 118 million tonnes of containerised goods.
The share of Ro-Ro mobile units in the total tonnage of goods was the highest for Ireland (31.6 %), Denmark (28.3 %) and Sweden (27.3 %), reflecting the importance of Ro-Ro ferry traffic in the seaborne transport of these countries. In tonnage terms, Italy (94 million tonnes) recorded the largest EU volumes of goods transported on Ro-Ro mobile units in 2020.
In 2020, the largest individual goods category handled in the main EU ports was ‘Coke and refined petroleum products’
Figure 6 presents the share of the type of goods (according to the NST 2007 classification) handled in the main EU ports. It shall be noted that the high share of unidentifiable goods reported has an impact on the results presented.
At EU level, the main types of goods (according to the NST 2007 classification) handled in the main EU ports were ‘coke and refined petroleum products’ (18.3 %) and ‘coal and crude petroleum’ (15.6 %), in 2020. These two categories accounted for one third of all goods handled in the main EU ports.
Rotterdam, Antwerpen and Hamburg stayed top three ports in 2020
Rotterdam, Antwerpen and Hamburg, all located on the North Sea coast, maintained their positions as EU's top three ports in 2020, both in terms of the gross weight of goods handled and in terms of the volume of containers handled in the ports. The 20 largest cargo ports accounted for 48 % of the total tonnage of goods handled in the EU ports in 2020. The largest port in Europe, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, on its own accounted for more than 12 % of the total tonnage handled in the EU ports (Figure 7).
The eight largest cargo ports in the EU remained the same in 2020 compared to 2019. Among the top 20 EU ports, the tonnes of goods handled in 2020 increased only in two ports compared to 2019: Klaipėda (+2.3 %) and Valencia (+0.5 %). In contrast, several ports reported substantial decreases. Amongst them, the two French ports Le Havre and Dunkerque reported the highest drops, with -18.5 % and -17.6 %, respectively. The two Dutch ports Amsterdam and ‘Zeeland seaports’, as well as Genova, Gdansk and Barcelona recorded falls of more than 10 % over the same period.
It has to be noted that the top 20 European ports in 2020 are the same as in 2019, even though the ranking is different for some ports. Dunkerque was the port falling the most in the ranking, from 16th position in 2019 to the 19th in 2020.
While inward activity was prevalent in 15 of the top 20 ports, the port of Klaipėda handled substantial outward movements (76 % of the total tonnage handled in the port in 2020) (Figure 8). In addition, Antwerpen, Bremerhaven, Valencia and Constanta recorded slightly more outward than inward movements of goods.
The most specialised of the top 20 cargo ports in handling containers were Bremerhaven (89 % of the total tonnage handled in the port in 2020), Piraeus (88 %) and Valencia (79 %). The most specialised in handling liquid bulk goods was Trieste (67 %); the most specialised in handling dry bulk goods was Constanta (62 %) (Figure 9).
All in all, seven of the top 20 EU cargo ports in 2020 were located on the Mediterranean, seven on the North Sea coast of Europe, three ports on the Atlantic coast, two ports in the Baltic Sea and one port in the Black Sea (Map 1). The composition of the national port infrastructure will sometimes determine whether a country is represented on the top 20 list of cargo ports or not. Denmark and Finland, for instance, are countries with a large number of medium-sized ports, all handling volumes of goods lower than the 34 million annual tonnes required to make the top 20 list.
Most EU maritime freight transport is with extra-EU partners
Unlike statistics presented earlier in this article, the data in Table 1 and Figure 10 do not present the total handling of goods in ports (inward movements plus outward movements in the ports), but estimate the seaborne transport of goods between the main European ports and their partner ports. As far as possible, double-counting of the same goods being reported as outward transport in one port and inward transport in another port is excluded in these figures (see data sources).
At 2.8 billion tonnes, the EU seaborne transport of goods substantially decreased between 2019 and 2020 (-7.4 %) (Table 1). The majority of these goods (71 %) were transported to or from ports outside the EU (international extra EU transport), making maritime transport the most common mode for long distance transport of goods to or from the EU, in tonnage terms. Cross-border transport between ports in the EU (international intra EU transport) made up 19 % of the maritime transport of goods in 2020, while transport of goods between national ports made up 8 % of the total EU maritime transport (Figure 10).
In countries with long shorelines or a large number of islands, like Italy and Greece as well as Norway, the share of national seaborne transport tends to be relatively high (from 17 % to 25 % in 2020). Countries like Malta, Finland, Sweden, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia and Denmark on the other hand, had high shares of international intra-EU transport (above 49 % in 2020), because their main maritime freight transport partners are found within the EU. Other countries, like Romania, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Belgium, Spain, France and Croatia (above 69 % in 2020), have high shares of extra-EU transport, based on their geographical position or the "deep sea" nature of the transport activities prevailing in their main ports.
Map 2 illustrates the largest maritime transport flows between the EU and the main international partners. As shown in the map, all of the EU’s top 10 maritime flows of goods in 2020 were inward flows, with the exception of the outward flows to the United Kingdom and China. In declining order, these were the inward flows of goods from the Baltic Sea area of Russia (6.0 % of the total extra-EU seaborne transport in 2020), the inward flow from the United Kingdom (5.2 %), the inward flow from the East Coast of the USA and the outward flow to the United Kingdom (each 4.9 %), the inward flows from the Black Sea area of Russia (4.1 %), Turkey and Norway (each 4.0 %), Brazil (3.4 %), China (3.1 %) and the outward flow to China (3.0 %).
In 2020, 94.3 million TEUs of containers were handled in the main EU ports
In 2020, 94.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) were handled in the main EU ports (Figure 11), decreasing by 2.4 % compared to 2019. When looking at empty containers, the decrease in 2020 was even more substantial (-9.3 %) while the handling of loaded containers fell only by 0.8 %.
Spain reported the largest volumes of containers handled in Europe in 2020. At 16.7 million TEUs, the volume of containers handled in Spanish ports represented 17.7 % of the EU total in 2020 (Figure 12). Spain was followed by Germany (14.9 % of the EU total), the Netherlands (14.5 %), Belgium (13.4 %) and Italy (12.2 %). All together, these five countries had more than 70 % of the containers handled in main EU ports in 2020.
All countries reported more loaded containers than empty containers. The share of empty containers handled was the lowest in Italy (5 % of the containers handled in the main ports of the country) and the highest in Cyprus and Finland (both 34 %) (Figure 13).
With 13.3 million TEUs handled, Rotterdam was EU’s largest container port in 2020 (Figure 14). Rotterdam was followed by Antwerpen with 12.0 million TEUs and Hamburg with 8.6 million TEUs handled in total. All in all, seven of the top 20 container ports recorded increases in the number of TEUs handled compared to 2019. In relative terms, the largest increase was seen for Marseille and Livorno (both +18.0 %), followed by Genova (+14.5 %), Sines (+13.3 %), Gioia Tauro (+11.3 %) and Antwerpen (+2.5 %). In contrast, the largest relative decreases were recorded by Le Havre (-21.4 %), La Spezia (-19.6 %) and Barcelona (-11.0 %).
All top 20 ports reported more loaded containers than empty containers. The share of handled empty containers was the lowest in Livorno (0.4 % of the containers handled in the main ports of the country) and the highest in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (29.8 %) (Figure 15).
The average size of vessels calling at main EU ports is estimated at 6 900 gross tonnage per vessel
In 2020, the number of vessels calling (handling freight or embarking and disembarking passengers) in main EU ports was estimated at 1.9 million, a decrease of 14.4 % from the previous year. Italy had the highest number of port calls in 2020 (506 thousand vessels), followed by Denmark and Greece (each 324 thousand vessels), Croatia (198 thousand vessels), Spain (137 thousand vessels) and Germany (105 thousand vessels) (Table 2).
In 2020, the estimated gross tonnage (GT) of the vessels calling in EU ports decreased to 13.2 billion GT (-18.6 % from the previous year). These substantial falls can most probably be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent restrictions put in place in the EU and worldwide. Italy recorded the largest gross tonnage of vessels calling at its main ports in 2020 with 2.4 billion GT, followed by Spain (1.8 billion GT) (Table 3).
In 2020, the average size of vessels calling in the main EU ports decreased by 4.9 % to slightly more than 6 900 GT in 2020 (Figure 16).
Vessels in the category “Cargo, non-specialised” (which includes Ro-Ro vessels) made the highest share of calls in main EU ports in 2020 (77.2 % of the vessels and 60.2 % of the gross tonnage). When based on the number of vessels, the next category was passenger (excluding cruise passengers) vessels (11.1 %), followed by liquid bulk vessels (4.2 %) and container vessels (3.5 %) (Figure 17). When looking at the shares based on gross tonnage, container vessels came second, with 19.3 %, followed by liquid bulk vessels (9.0 %) and dry bulk vessels (4.0 %). Passenger vessels represented only 1.7 % based on gross tonnage, indicating their lower size compared to the other types of vessels.
Source data for tables and graphs
This article presents the trends in freight transport and vessel traffic in European Union (EU) ports and also includes figures for Iceland, Norway, Montenegro and Turkey. The content is based on data collected within the legal framework for EU maritime transport statistics, 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 and later amendments. Directive 2009/42/EC is a recast of the original Council Directive 95/64/EC of 8 December 1995.
The EU aggregates in the statistics refer to the total of 22 maritime Member States. Czechia, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria and Slovakia have no maritime ports. Norway and Iceland provide Eurostat with data as members of the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA country Liechtenstein has no maritime ports. Montenegro and Turkey provide data as candidate countries.
“Main ports” are ports handling more than one million tonnes of goods or more than 200 000 passengers annually (however, data for some smaller ports may be included in the published results). Data are presented at level of “statistical ports”. A statistical port consists of one or more ports, normally controlled by a single port authority, able to record ship and cargo movements.
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%.
Explanatory notes for countries are available in the metadata on the Eurostat website.
Starting from 2011, the figures for Spain include data for a number of minor regional ports outside the state-controlled port system. Montenegro started to report data on seaborne transport in 2012. Data have been partially estimated by Eurostat for a number of French ports for the period 2009-2016. Detailed data on main ports are not available for Iceland.
Type of cargo (Figures 5 and 9):
- Liquid bulk: liquefied gas, crude oil, oil products, other liquid bulk goods.
- Dry bulk: ores, coal, agricultural products (e.g. grain, soya, tapioca), other dry bulk goods.
- Large containers: 20 ft freight units, 40 ft freight units, freight units > 20 ft and < 40 ft, freight units > 40 ft.
- Ro-Ro mobile units:
a) Mobile self-propelled units: road goods vehicles and accompanying trailers, passenger cars, motorcycles and accompanying trailers/caravans, passenger buses, trade vehicles (including import/export motor vehicles), live animals on the hoof, other mobile self-propelled units.
b) Mobile non-self-propelled units: unaccompanied road goods trailers and semi-trailers, unaccompanied caravans and other road, agricultural and industrial vehicles, rail wagons, shipborne port-to-port trailers and shipborne barges engaged in goods transport, other mobile non-self-propelled units
- Other cargo: forestry products, iron and steel products, other general cargo.
The category “large containers” includes containers having a length of 20 feet or more. Smaller containers are included in the category “other cargo”. As a general rule, the container figures are limited to lift-on lift-off containers (Lo-Lo).
Transport calculation (Table 1 and Figure 10): In order to estimate maritime transport of goods between ports, the issue of "double counting" (the transport of the same goods being declared by both the port of loading (as outward movements) and the port of unloading (as inward movements) has to be addressed. Generally, when both the port of loading and the port of unloading are situated within the same statistical aggregate, only the incoming flows of goods declared by ports are summed up to determine the total maritime transport within the aggregate ("elimination of double counting"). The algorithm for the elimination of double counting is applied at statistical port level. Thus, the total maritime transport per country excludes the double counting of maritime transport within the country. Similarly, the total maritime transport for the EU excludes the double counting of national and international intra-EU maritime transport (see metadata on the Eurostat website for more information).
Please note that the recording of unknown port of loading or unloading may have influenced the transport figure calculations, as well as the shares of maritime transport allocated to intra-EU, extra-EU and National maritime transport.
Type of vessel (Figure 17):
- Liquid bulk: oil tanker, chemical tanker, LG tanker, tanker barge, other tanker.
- Dry bulk: bulk/oil carrier, bulk carrier.
- Container: full container.
- Cargo, specialised: barge carrier, chemical carrier, irradiated fuel, livestock carrier, vehicle carrier, other specialised.
- Cargo, non-specialised: reefer, Ro-Ro passenger, Ro-Ro container, other Ro-Ro cargo, combination carrier general cargo/passenger, combination carrier general cargo/container, single-decker, multi-decker.
- Passenger: passenger (excluding cruise passenger vessels).
- Other: cruise ships, offshore supply, dry cargo barges, tugs, miscellaneous, unknown type of vessel.
Special symbols used in the tables
':' not available
'-' not applicable
The content of this statistical article is based on data collected within the framework 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.
The basic legal act (Directive 2009/42/EC) was amended by:
- Commission Decision 2010/216/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 April 2010, OJ L 94, 15.4.2010, p. 33-40
- Regulation (EU) No 1090/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 November 2010, OJ L 325, 9.12.2010, p. 1-3
- Commission Delegated Decision 2012/186/EU of 3 February 2012 OJ L 101 of 11.4.2012 pp. 5-14.
The following legal acts include respectively the last official version of the list of ports and some dissemination aspects:
- Commission Decision 2001/423/EC of 22 May 2001 (on dissemination) OJ L 151 of 07.06.2001 p. 41
- Commission Delegated Decision (EU) 2018/1007 of 25 April 2018 supplementing Directive 2009/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the list of ports and repealing Commission Decision 2008/861/EC (Text with EEA relevance.) OJ L 180, 17.7.2018, p. 29–71
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- Maritime transport (ESMS metadata file — mar_esms)
- Reference manual on maritime transport statistics
- Glossary for transport statistics - 5th edition - 2019