Covid-19 hit supply chains the world over in 2020, and in 2021 the container shortage made headlines. As globalisation has increased, and import and export levels have risen, the role of ports has become more important than ever. Here we profile the ten busiest ports in the world by 20ft equivalent units (TEUs) transported through the port.
1. Shanghai, China
Container traffic in thousand TEUs, 2020: 43,500
Located on the Yangtze Delta, the port of Shanghai is the busiest in the world, a position it has held since 2010. The port has been active for more than 100 years but only really started to flourish on an international level in the 1990s after China opened up its economy.
The area covered by the port is about 3,620km² and it consists of 293,000m² of warehouses and 4.7 million square metres of storage yards. About 2,000 ships depart the port of Shanghai every month. The port forms part of China’s new Maritime Silk Road.
The port of Singapore had been the busiest in the world until Shanghai took its crown in 2010. It is estimated the port trans-ships one-third of the world’s shipping containers. The two main ports that Singapore is comprised of are PSA Singapore and Jurong Port.
PSA Singapore has 52 container berths, a quay length of 15,500m, it covers an area of 600 hectares (ha), and boasts 190 quay cranes. Jurong Port has 32 berths, a berth length of 5.6km, it covers 127ha on its free trade zone, and another 28ha outside of the zone, and its warehouses cover 178,000m². Like Shanghai, the port of Singapore forms part of the new Maritime Silk Road.
3. Ningbo-Zhoushan, China
Container traffic in thousand TEUs, 2020: 28,720
The second-busiest port in China and the third-busiest in the world, Ningbo-Zhoushan operates on the coast of the East China Sea about 200km from Shanghai. Ningbo-Zhoushan forms a crossroads between coastal shipping routes and China’s busy inland waterway system, including the Yangtze River. It includes a seaport (Beilun), an estuary port (Zhenhai) and an inland river port (Ningbo Harbour).
Another port that forms part of the new Maritime Silk Road, Ningbo-Zhoushan has 191 berths, including 39 deepwater berths. It also boasts a purpose-built terminal for sixth-generation container vessels.
4. Shenzhen, China
Container traffic in thousand TEUs, 2020: 26,550
The port of Shenzhen is comprised of a number of ports along the coastline of the city in Guangdong province, and like the city it is based in, it is growing at a rapid pace. The port sits in the Pearl River Delta and is a short distance from Hong Kong and Guangzhou.
It is yet another port that forms part of the new Maritime Silk Route and boasts 140 berths. Its container traffic has almost doubled in volume in the past 15 years.
5. Guangzhou, China
Container traffic in thousand TEUs, 2020: 23,190
Located just over 100km from Shenzhen and Hong Kong, the port of Guangzhou is another major logistics hub on the Pearl River Delta. Its history dates back to the Qin dynasty of around 200 BCE, and the port’s location on three major rivers – Beijiang, Dongjiang and Xijiang – has meant the centre has been considered an important area for trade for millennia.
The port of Guangzhou has 4,600 berths and 133 buoys, and it has trade routes with more than 300 other ports. It too forms part of the Maritime Silk Route. It is a sister port of Rotterdam.
6. Qingdao, China
Container traffic in thousand TEUs, 2020: 22,000
Located on the Yellow Sea in China, the port of Qingdao comprises four areas: Dagang, Qianwan, Huangdong (which is an oil specialist port) and Dongjiakou, which is located 40km south of Qingdao city.
Qingdao trades with more than 450 other ports, and specialises in international trade. The port terminal covers 2.25 million square metres and the total length of its berths is 3,400m. The port is heavily connected with Qingdao Free Trade Zone.
7. Busan, South Korea
Container traffic in thousand TEUs, 2020: 21,590
Based in South Korea’s second-most-populous city, the port of Busan rose to prominence in the 1970s on the back of the footwear and veneer industries. It is comprised of four ports (North, South, Gamcheon and Dadaepo), an international passenger terminal and a container terminal.
8. Hong Kong
Container traffic in thousand TEUs, 2020: 20,070
Consistently one of the busiest ports in the world for the past few decades (and the busiest as recently as 2004), the port of Hong Kong continues to be a major international shipping hub in spite of the rise of the nearby ports of Shenzhen and Guangzhou. It comprises nine container terminals, which between them boast 24 berths and 92 quay cranes.
9. Tianjin, China
Container traffic in thousand TEUs, 2020: 18,350
The port of Tianjin is located in northern China and provides a maritime gateway to capital city Beijing. It covers a land area of 121km and has 217 berths (or which 140 are production berths). It also has several ship repair and chip-building facilities. It has undergone several expansions over the past 20 years.
10. Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Container traffic in thousand TEUs, 2020: 14,350
The largest port outside of Asia, the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands sits on the Rhine Delta and the North Sea. The port has been the busiest in the world at various points in its history – it has been operational since the 14th century – and in total covers more than 12,500ha.