COSCO buys into Zeebrugge

COSCO, the Chinese State-owned shipping and port company, has announced that it has succeeded in buying the concession for the CSP Zeebrugge Terminal.

The opportunity has arisen because APM Terminals has sold its stake in the facility in order to focus on its operations in the neighbouring Port of Antwerp. At the same time COSCO’s fellow member of the ‘Ocean Alliance’, CMA CGM, has bought a 10% stake in CSP Zeebrugge.

The logic behind the move appears to have several aspects. On the one hand, the Zeebrugge container terminal will become a favoured facility for the Ocean Alliance, which is not unusual. However, COSCO’s ambitions appear to go beyond this. In a statement from the company Mr Zhang Wei, Managing Director of COSCO Shipping Ports elaborated that “there are many reasons why we choose Zeebrugge as our first gateway port in Northwest Europe. With its prime location and water depth, it provides ideal conditions for mega vessels. We plan not only to develop CSP Zeebrugge into a maritime crossroads but also an ultra-logistic platform to serve continental Europe and the British Isles”. Conceivably, COSCO wishes to build up a logistics presence in North Western Europe to complement its operations in the Mediterranean such as those at the Port of Piraeus.

However, as is normal with China’s investments in freight, there is a further aspect. The Chinese Ambassador to Belgium commented that “the launch of Belt and Road initiative between China and Belgium in 2014 has laid a solid foundation for today’s signing ceremony”. It appears that the ambition for the Belt and Road Initiative stretches all the way to the coast of Belgium.

How well Zeebrugge will be able to deliver this is uncertain. Although the port is well positioned and capable of taking large vessels, the CSP Zeebrugge terminal has a maximum capacity of 1m TEUs and as such is somewhat in the shadow of its giant neighbour, Antwerp. This may imply that COSCO wishes to invest heavily in its new purchase.

Source: Transport Intelligence, January 25, 2018

Author: Thomas Cullen


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