Erik’s thoughts on new port trends

Ports along our coastline and around our lakes can be perceived as static. They’ve always been where they’ve been, very few new ports have been built and to the beholder they all look the same and never change. However, this is not entirely the case.

Ports are on the move

Towns and cities grow and expand, which of course is only natural. The urbanization trend is clear, people want to live where there is work. This, in combination with increased globalization and commerce one would have thought that city-located ports would have also grown and expanded, but this isn’t the case. The reasons why are simple. Ports are active around the clock, ships have a penchant for an extremely early time of arrival and ready for unloading by 7 in the morning. Like any other industrial activity, noise is created and no one wants their sleep disturbed. Meanwhile land is needed for the construction of new housing and these projects are being built ever closer to industry and port locations. This has meant that ports with a central location have had to close and a new port built further away from towns. A clear example of this is the closure of the Stockholm fuel depots of Loudden and Bergs in 2018 and 2019. Another example is Gothenburg’s Frihamnen that is no longer a general cargo port but instead has been turned into a Swedish Touring Car Championship race track.

Ports are sold and merged

We also see a trend in Sweden where the municipal ports are divided into port authorities and stevedoring. Stevedore operations are sold mainly to private enterprises, a good example is that Gothenburg today has three big stevedoring entities. Port of Gävle will now sell off its stevedore operations later this autumn. We can also see how smaller ports merge with each other with a deepening collaboration with their neighbours. Ports of Halland was created in 2013, a merger between the ports of Halmstad and Varberg. Earlier this year the Port of Umeå merged with the Finnish port of Vasa to form Kvarken Ports.

Port specialization

If we look back a good 70 years to just after the end of WWII there was a total of 350 ports in Sweden. Today there are just over 50. In those days the ports’ main business revolved around imports of diverse general cargo. Today ports are much more specialized in their particular business areas some of which develop their niches even further.

The future?

The evidence suggests that these three trends will continue in the same direction and nothing that I have witnessed so far points to the contrary. Large cities and towns grow, and they need land in order to do that. Collaborations become more necessary between ports and other businesses, not only for the customers’ best but also for the economic advantages that such collaboration brings. How all this affects Port of Södertälje is a question that myself, my management team and our owners have discussed intensively. There are good opportunities for Port of Södertälje, with its geographical location in the proximity of a fast growing Stockholm, for positive development. We have a clear vision of how things will be in five, ten and 25 years from now. But, if things actually turn out that way, only time will tell.

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