A Belgian Super League Port

The 21,020gt Adeline of CLdN leaving Zeebrugge in August 2014. She was built in 2012 by Kyokuyo at Chofu. The CLdN vessels are regular visitors to Zeebrugge operating services to Killingholme, Purfleet and other European ports. (Nigel Lawrence)

A Belgian Super League Port was created on 22nd April 2022 when the great ports of Zeebrugge and Antwerp merged, and moved forward under a single banner, which has resulted in a forward looking and exciting synergy. Antwerp lies 60 miles east and inland of coastal Zeebrugge, and is around 88 kilometres from the North Sea along the winding Scheldt Estuary, and consists of two ‘kidney’ shaped port areas on either side of the river in the City of Antwerp. Zeebrugge, on the other hand, lies on the coast and is ten miles north of the medieval city of Bruges, from which it gets its name. The combined traffic throughput of the merged port is 287 million tonnes per year, employing 1,800 people directly, and around 164,000 people indirectly.

The Super Port is operated by the limited liability company Antwerp-Bruges Port Authority, within the public laws work frames of the City of Antwerp and the City of Bruges as its shareholders. The merged port is home to the largest integrated chemical industry in Europe, and the second largest container handling port in Europe and an important lifeline in the Belgian economy with over three hundred liner services serving eight hundred destinations throughout the world. It rivals Rotterdam as the largest port in Europe.

Zeebrugge is one of the main entry points in Europe for the supply of LNG with 15% of the total LNG supply in Europe and thus is a green energy hub and has other green initiatives e.g. the construction of a second lock to the inner port and a new road that will reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions. The two Belgian ports complement each other and this is reflected, amongst other things, in the shift of container volumes from Antwerp to Zeebrugge. Antwerp was at the limit of its container handling capacity in 2022, with the merger still in transition a year later in April 2023 after the single approach to Belgian port structure. The evaluation of the twin processes and systems continues non-stop. A merger of two great ports is a long term project and involves major technical, operational and management challenges.


An aerial view of the port.


The port history goes back to medieval times with the creation of small, navigable canals from the City of Bruges to the coast. A proposal was made in 1877 by hydraulic engineer August de Maere, Alderman of the City of Ghent, to build a coastal Belgian port. However, there was no enthusiasm for this in Ghent but the proposal found favour in Bruges. In 1891, the Belgian Government set up the Commission Mixte de Bruges Port de Mer, which held a competition to build a seaport on the coast with an outlet to the sea from Bruges.

On 1st June 1894, an agreement was reached between the Belgian State, the City of Bruges, and the private investors Louis Coiseau and Jean Cousin, in which the conditions for the construction and operation of the new port were laid out. It would consist of three parts:-

  • An outport on the Belgian coast at Zeebrugge (meaning Bruges on Sea)
  • A sea channel from the outport to Bruges, the Baudouin Canal of length  7.5 miles
  • An inland port in Bruges itself located in the north of the city

The Compagnie des Installations Maritimes de Bruges was incorporated on 25th November 1895, and later became the MBZ (Maatschappij van de Bruges Zeehaven), the present Port Authority of Zeebrugge. The capital of the company was 50% subscribed to by the City of Bruges, and 50% by Louis Coiseau and Jean Cousin and other private investors. The construction work began on the artificial harbour in 1896 and continued until completion in 1905, with King Leopold II declaring it open on 7th July 1907.


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