Ship on the Westerschelde
A port is a facility where ships are received to load and unload valuable cargo. It often has special equipment used to transfer cargo, such as cranes and forklifts. Usually there are warehouses to temporarily store cargo. A good connection to infrastructure such as pipelines, railway, and roads is necessary to relay goods inland. The term port is often confused with the term harbor. A harbor is a natural or sometimes manmade bay and a prerequisite for a port. For larger ships to enter, it is important that the harbor is sufficiently deep. The Netherlands has four major seaports: the port of Rotterdam, the port of Amsterdam, Zeeland Seaports, and Groningen Seaports.

Container terminals on the Maasvlakte
Port of Rotterdam- Rotterdam claimed to be “the worlds busiest port” from 1962. In 1986 this was contested by Singapore; however both of them were overtaken by Shanghai (China) in 2005. Rotterdam now takes a third place after Shanghai and Singapore with an annual cargo tonnage of about 400 million tons. Every year 34,000 sea-vessels and 133,000 inland-traveling vessels cast anchor in Rotterdam. Cargo most often shipped include chemicals, fruit, grain, coal, ores, oil, fodder and fertilizer. Six containers containing six hundred tons of goods in each arrive at the port every minute! Processing all these products takes so much work that 70,000 people are employed in this middle-sized city.

The major advantage of the port of Rotterdam is its central location in Europe. The port is located at the actively-sailed North Sea, and has 100 million European consumers just one day’s drive away. The port did not have much significance until the second half of the 19th century. However, with booming industrial production in Germany, the port started to expand, and the connection to the sea was improved. After the second World War, the activity in the port grew even more. At the same time, however, the growing population in the area left little room for further expansion and soon led to a permanent lack of space. In the 1960s it was decided to expand the port westwards into the sea. 420 million cubic meters of sand were required to create the artificial plain, “de Maasvlakte.” At time of writing, 2009, the construction of the second Maasvlakte has started. The Dutch shoreline is now interrupted by the ‘bulge’ of the protruding Maasvlaktes near the city of Rotterdam.

Port of Amsterdam- The port of Amsterdam is the second largest port in the Netherlands and ranks fifth in Europe. It has a rich seafaring history, and, whereas the port of Rotterdam is almost purely industrialized, Amsterdam is also popular with cruise ships. The port of Amsterdam is connected to the North Sea by the North Sea Canal. It is an important port for oil, grains, coals, and ores. Container shipping is also on the rise. Not insignificant, Amsterdam is the largest port for cocoa trade. With one third of the world’s cocoa in store, Amsterdam is the main supplier of cocoa for the American and European chocolate industries.

Zeeland Seaports- Zeeland Seaports, in the southern part of the Netherlands, is a joint venture of the ports of Vlissingen and Terneuzen. It is strategically located between the port of Antwerp and the port of Rotterdam. Situated at the mouth of the Scheldt and the Gent-Terneuzen canal, it will become even more strategic in the future. At this moment the “water highway” to Paris is under construction at Zeeland that connects the Seine with the Scheldt. Thus it is expected to gain great significance for inland shipping.

Groningen Seaports-The Groningen Seaports combines the management of Eemshaven and the port of Delfzijl and is thus the largest Seaport in the northern part of the Netherlands. The port is connected to the Eems, a river in northwestern Germany.