Nowhere in the world is there more shipping and dredging than in the North Sea

No sea in the world is as busy as the North Sea. Not only does the world’s busiest shipping route, the English Channel, generate extra traffic, but the Scheldt estuary also plays an important role for the many container ships that sail from the port of Antwerp to other seaports around the world.

Every day, the North Sea teems with container ships, fishing boats, pleasure craft, police patrols and naval frigates. To channel all this traffic, special routes have been mapped out. These guide ships around all sorts of obstacles, including the North Sea’s many sandbanks.

Keeping the water flowing

With the deepest point of the Belgian North Sea barely 40 m below sea level, dredgers are constantly at work to keep the water flowing. It is no coincidence that Belgium is one of the world’s leading dredging nations. With the Netherlands, it has the largest and most modern dredging fleet in the world, led by the Belgian companies Jan De Nul and Deme and the Dutch companies Royal Boskalis Westminster NV and Van Oord.

All this dredging is also vital for the North Sea ports, as it ensures the smooth flow of ships. And there are a lot of them every day, both long- and short-haul.

Short sea shipping

Thanks to its central location on the Scheldt and the North Sea, the port of Antwerp-Bruges is an important player in short sea shipping. This refers to the transport of goods and passengers between ports in geographical Europe or between these ports and ports in non-European countries whose coastline follows the European inland seas. That includes maritime transport between the EU member states, Norway, Iceland and other countries bordering the Baltic, Black and Mediterranean Seas.

The port of Antwerp-Bruges offers weekly fixed short sea and feeder sailings to and from 200 destinations in Europe, North Africa and the UK. This activity links the Belgian location with 569 ports. As much as 110.7 million tonnes, or 47.9 per cent of the port’s total seaborne cargo handling, comes from or goes to a short sea destination. In addition, 4.7 million TEUs, or 38.8 per cent of container throughput, travels between the port and other short sea destinations.

The volume of goods loaded and unloaded in Antwerp has more than doubled in the last 20 years to 231 million tonnes. This makes Antwerp by far the most important port in Belgium and the second largest in Europe. Its location 80 km inland makes Antwerp the fastest and most sustainable link to the European hinterland. Antwerp is ranked 14th in the world’s top 20 container ports.