From the Vikings to the Portuguese, the history of Europe is inextricably linked to its seaports. Today, these ports continue to play a pivotal role in both global trade and the continent’s internal market.
According to the European Sea Ports Organization, 90 percent of Europe’s cargo trade in goods passes through the more than 1,200 seaports in the 23 maritime member states of the European Union (EU). Many of these ports are rendered even busier by hundreds of millions of passengers aboard cruises and ferries.
As the gateways to the EU’s entire transport network, European ports play a key role in trade, economic development and job creation. There are direct connections from ports in England, Spain, Belgium and other nations to nearly 850 destinations in the Far East, and more than 600 ports in North, Central and South America.
While these ports are obviously essential to global trade, they are often also a preferred option to road or rail transportation. Several city-to-city routes are actually shorter when traversed by water then over land.
Europe’s busiest container port is in the Netherlands city of Rotterdam, followed by the Port of Hamburg in Germany and the Port of Antwerp in Belgium. These and other ports are represented by the European Sea Ports Organization, founded in 1993.
Port traffic continues to increase. The World Shipping Council reports that the number of containers heading into European ports has risen by more than 4x over the past 20 years.
European ports enjoy a sophisticated system of inland and short sea transportation that feed cargo to and from the major ports to secondary locations. They also have excellent rail connections. The EU recently announced a $14.5 billion program to enhance the ports’ inland connections.