Economic recovery sets Spain’s ports on track for a record year

Cruise passengers and container traffic show increase in 2016

Javier Salvatierra
A container vessel at Algeciras.
A container vessel at Algeciras.puertos del estado

The smartphone in your pocket or the computer you use at home probably entered Spain by ship, forming part of the huge number of products that are loaded and unloaded in the country’s ports, which, according to figures for this year are set to break all records for passenger and goods traffic.

If the first half of this year’s performance is repeated in the second six months of 2016, more than 513 million tons of goods will have passed through the 46 ports run by State Ports, which operates under the auspices of the Public Works Ministry, according to data published this week.

More than 30 million passengers have also used these installations, where close to 140,000 ships dock each year. The overall improvement of the Spanish economy, coupled with the consolidation of Spain as a strategic logistics hub, are driving growth.

State Ports says that improvements are needed to Spain’s road and rail infrastructure, citing the Mediterranean rail corridor, which can take goods from Algeciras to anywhere in Europe

During the crisis, Spanish families consumed less, and as a result imports declined. “People weren’t spending, and they just put up with their old television and didn’t want to buy a new car. But as the economy began to take off, consumption has increased, imports and exports have both increased, and all this has impacted on shipping,” says a source at State Ports.

The body says that in the first six months of this year, Spanish ports handled 252 million tons of merchandise, 2.55% more than in the first quarter of 2015, when a total of 502,186, 921 tons were handled. The forecast for this year, based on the performance of the first six months of the year, is 513 million tons. The estimate for 2019 is 560 million.

Spain is also an important trans-shipment point, with around a quarter of goods – some 60.4 million in the first half of this year – unloaded and then taken to other vessels. More than half of this traffic takes place in the port of Algeciras, close to Gibraltar. It is a strategic hub that connects Europe, Africa and America, and is Spain’s most important port.

“Spanish ports and the Iberian peninsula overall have consolidated themselves as a global logistics hub,” says State Ports. “With the opening of the new Panama Canal, a lot of Spanish ports are keen to offer their capacity to the expected increase in traffic between the Americas and Europe.

The ports authority says that Spanish ports still have plenty of capacity. “Between 1992 and 2005, huge investments were made in the country’s installations, more than €1 billion some years. The ports can handle any goods: they are currently working at around 55% installed capacity, and have enough installations to meet increased traffic for the next 20 years.”

State Ports says that improvements are needed to Spain’s road and rail infrastructure, citing the Mediterranean rail corridor, which can take goods from Algeciras to anywhere in Europe, saving shipping companies from having to sail round the western tip of the continent past Portugal and France and onto Rotterdam, still Europe’s biggest port. But Spain lags behind the rest of the EU, where around 15% of goods are taken out of ports by rail: here the figure is around 7.5%.

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The Public Works Ministry says it expects a record number of passengers entering and leaving Spain by ship for this year: some 30.87 million, up 3% on last year. Around a third of them, 8.59 million, traveled aboard the almost 4,000 cruise ships that now visit Spain each year. Up to June, 12.7 million people had disembarked at a Spanish port, up 5.6% on last year. There has been a particularly large increase in the Balearic Islands, which have seen a 16.3% increase in travelers, most of them using ferries to and from the mainland. But Spain’s number one cruise destination is Barcelona, which received some 2.5 million in 2015. The growing popularity of cruises, which offering highly competitive prices, along with security concerns about Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, and even Greece, have benefited Spanish ports.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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