Ports are the lifeline of civilizations and nations and have far-reaching effects on a variety of domains. From defence to the economic and financial sector, shipping ports control the prosperity of a nation.
Countries blessed with abundant coastlines are able to quickly expand and grow due to the vast benefits that are provided to them by ports.
Countries further inland are dependent on coastal nations for various goods and services, thus enabling trade and commerce.
A port is a designated structure where ships and other vessels are allowed to berth and dock. They may be carrying goods such as fuels, foodstuff, livestock, timber etc. or are transporting people across nations.
In order to facilitate the swift entry and exit of vessels, various facilities are provided in this regard. This can include large container yards, exclusive port terminals, and other auxiliary facilities such as servicing, repair, and maintenance.
Ports are found all across the globe on all continents include remote Antarctica, and cater to a wide variety of goods and services. Thus, classifying them into major and minor ports can be tricky.
In this regard, most ports today primarily focus on goods transport through containers. Thus, these containers are used to obtain a rough estimate of the overall health of a port.
In most international standards, guides, and publications, the container traffic measured in TEUs is considered to be the reference for port traffic. A TEU refers to Twenty-foot Equivalent Units, where 20 feet is the length of the average container. Forty-foot containers are accounted for as 2 TEUs.
In this list, we have two major categories of ports- top ports on the basis of container traffic, and other major ports around the globe. To determine the ranking of the first category, TEU traffic has been utilized, whereas the second category mainly relies on geographical location and relevance.
Top 10 Ports in Terms of Container Traffic Per Annum
The TEU traffic experienced by most ports in this list lies in the range of millions. They are predominantly located in and around China, due to several features that make the region a great location for setting up a port.
China is situated in the Indian Ocean with direct access to the Pacific Ocean, South China Sea, East China Sea, Straits of Malacca, and the Korean and Japanese coastlines.
Thus, all traffic to and from the Pacific and Indian oceans pass through this region, making it a hotspot for ports. Of the top 10 in our list, 7 are situated in China, 1 each in Singapore, South Korea, and the UAE.
1. Shanghai Port, China
TEU traffic in 2019: 43.3 million
The Port of Shanghai became the world’s busiest port in 2010 and has retained that position since then after overtaking the Port of Singapore. It was opened in 1842 and is managed at present by the Shanghai International Port Company Ltd. that operates the port as a deep-sea and river port. It is situated on the East China Sea and faces the Hangzhou Bay to the South. It became a prominent port owing to its geographical location near the confluence of the rivers Yangtze, Huangpu, and Qiantang. The port is essential for trade around the East coast of China.
2. Singapore Port, Singapore
TEU traffic in 2018: 36.6 million
The Port of Singapore has been the second largest port since 2010 and includes numerous facilities and terminals that supplement it. It ships 1/5th of the world’s containers, nearly half of the world’s crude oil, and is the largest trans-shipment port. This port provides major economic growth for the region as there are no large scale viable natural resources. Ships approach through the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and the Singapore Strait, as the Straits of Johor to the North are impassable. The main terminal operators include Keppel and Pasir Panjang. These are under the authority of the PSA (Port of Singapore Authority) and Jurong Port. Singapore Port also operates a specialized terminal for cruise ships and liners.
3. Shenzhen, China
TEU traffic in 2018: 27.7 million
The Shenzhen Port refers to several ports within the Guangdong province of China which act under a single head. The port is located near several prominent bays and waterways that provide large container traffic. It includes over 140 total berths for ships and is subdivided for management into two ports on the Eastern and the Western sides divided by the Kowloon peninsula. It is located on the Pearl River Delta, making it ideal for shipping services.
4. Ningbo-Zhoushan Port, China
TEU traffic in 2018: 26.4 million
It is one of the busiest ports in the world and is located in the East China Sea near Hangzhou Bay and Shanghai municipality. It is further made up of the Beilun port (sea), Zhenhai port (estuary), and old Ningbo port (inland river). The port is operated by the Ningbo Zhoushan Port Co. Ltd. after the merger of the ports at Ningbo and Zhoushan in 2006. It supports trade with over 90 countries and has over 190 berths for ships of various weight classes. However, the constant maritime traffic has polluted the water in the region, sparking international outrage.
5. Guangzhou Port, China
TEU traffic in 2018: 21.9 million
This port serves as the primary port of the Guangdong region that deals with sea-related shipping. It is operated by the Guangzhou Port Group Co. Ltd. and has merged with the nearby Huangpu Port. It is the largest port (comprehensive) in the South China region. It is an integral port and hub in the Pearl River Delta. The port boasts of 4,600 berths available to various classes of vessel size. Dredging operations are currently underway to expand the port and allow larger tonnage vessels to enter.
6. Busan Port, South Korea
TEU traffic in 2018: 21.7 million
Busan Port is the largest port in South Korea and is located in Busan Harbor. It is an extremely busy port owing to its location and the facilities available for berthing vessels. It currently has several sister ports that operate from all over the world.
7. Hong Kong Port, Hong Kong Province / China
TEU traffic in 2018: 19.6 million
Located in the South China Sea, this seaport is situated around Victoria Harbor and is one of the busiest ports in both cargo and passenger movement. The port is under the Port Operations Committee and the Marine Department. The port terminals are maintained by several companies including Modern Terminals Ltd. (MTL), Hongkong International Terminals Ltd. (HIT), and Dubai Port International Terminals Ltd. (DPI). The nine terminals include berths for container vessels, government fleets, and ships due for repairs and maintenance. It is one of the most developed ports in the world, with several facilities available for a wide variety of ships and vessels.
8. Qingdao Port, China
TEU traffic in 2018: 18.3 million
Located in the Yellow Sea, the port is divided into 4 sections- Dagang, Qianwan, Huangdong Oil, and Dongjiakou. The port has several agreements with other ports to facilitate shipping and transport. It is one of the busiest ports in the world with traffic from several countries.
9. Tianjin Port, China
TEU traffic in 2018: 16 million
This port is operated by the Tianjin Port Group Ltd. and primarily serves seaport and river port shipping. It was known as the Port of Tanggu, and is located in a geographically relevant area. This port is the largest port of Northern China with large-scale trading across many countries. The port has several facilities along with numerous berths that provide space for incoming vessels. It is a very developed port that provides shipping and terminal services from numerous reputed organizations.
10. Jebel Ali Port (Dubai) United Arab Emirates (UAE)
TEU traffic in 2018: 15 million
Referred to as Mina Jebel Ali, it is situated in the largest man-made harbour and is the biggest port in the Middle East. It was built to function alongside Port Rashid in the 1970s.
Currently, it also serves as a base for aircraft carriers and other warships of the United States Navy. The Jebel Ali port has numerous facilities and provides services from several prominent firms. It is managed by the Dubai Port World organization. It has won numerous awards for being extremely well developed and equipped.
Other Important Ports Around the World
Although the top 10 ports are predominantly in the Eastern portion of the globe, there are several other ports that are of great significance due to their location and strategic importance. T
his list covers the 10 ports that are integral to global trade and play a major role in commerce and goods transportation. Their respective TEU traffic is also provided, alongside their global TEU traffic ranking.
1. Rotterdam Port, The Netherlands
TEU traffic in 2018: 14.5 million
Global TEU traffic-based ranking: 11
As the largest port in Europe in terms of cargo traffic, this port is located in the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta region. It has 5 subsidiary ports that operate under the central port authority. It has been lauded as one of the most technically advanced ports on the globe and boasts of automated systems that work in almost all spheres of the port functioning. It is run by the Port of Rotterdam Authority that supervises regular operations. It has numerous awards for being one of the most developed ports and for taking initiatives to cut down carbon and emission footprint.
2. Antwerp Port, Belgium
TEU traffic in 2018: 11.1 million
Global TEU traffic-based ranking: 13
This port is located in the Belgian city of Antwerp (Flanders region) and is an important port of the European continent. It has facilities to berth ships of very large sizes, including capsize vessels capable of passing through the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn. It offers services to several other ports around the world and has several auxiliary facilities. The port is divided for easy management into the Right Bank, Left Bank, and Deurganck Bank. It is a fast-evolving port that serves a majority of surrounding regions.
3. Los Angeles Port, United States of America
TEU traffic in 2018: 9.5 million
Global TEU traffic-based ranking: 17
One of the major ports on the US coastline, the Port of Los Angeles handles over 20% of all cargo entering the US. Run by the Los Angeles Harbor Department, it is one of the largest seaports. It functions alongside the Port of Long Beach and is situated in the San Pedro Bay. It has eight container terminals that deal with incoming container traffic, and a further 25 cargo terminals that deal with various types of goods. It conducts extensive trading with the ports of Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The port has its own police department that serves to ensure safety and security. It deals with the largest value of goods passing through any US port with China as the top trading partner. The port is connected to numerous road and rail services that enable fast and efficient goods transport.
4. Hamburg Port, Germany
TEU traffic in 2018: 8.7 million
Global TEU traffic-based ranking: 19
Germany is a major world hub for commerce and trade, and the shipping service is handled primarily by the Port of Hamburg. It is located just 110 km away from the North Sea, placing it in an ideal position. Referred to as “Germany’s gateway to the World”, it comes after Rotterdam and Antwerp in terms of container traffic and is one of the busiest ports in the world. It is owned and operated by the Hamburg Port Authority (HHLA). It is an open tidal port that is frequented by over 10,000 vessels every year. There are 17 terminals with a collective 40 berths available for incoming vessels. It is also a popular destination for cruises and has 3 dedicated facilities for handling cruise liners.
5. Colombo Port, Sri Lanka
TEU traffic in 2018: 7.1 million
Global TEU traffic-based ranking: 24
The busiest and largest port in Sri Lanka, the Port of Colombo is an artificial harbour that handles most of the nation’s shipping and trade. It is situated on the river Kelani, and is in a geographically significant region. Being in proximity to the Indian Ocean makes it ideal for dealing with trans-shipment and other services. It is operated jointly under the Shanghai International Port Group and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. It boasts of 51 berths able to accommodate a large variety of ships and also doubles up as the naval base for the Western Fleet of the Sri Lankan Navy. The port has several auxiliary facilities including feeder and container berths and has several gantry cranes capable of handling containers from a large number of vessels. It underwent a massive expansion in 2008, making it one of the most modern ports in the world.
6. Jawaharlal Nehru Port aka Nhava Sheva (Mumbai), India
TEU traffic in 2018: 5.1 million
Global TEU traffic-based ranking: 31
Referred to as Nhava Sheva, the JNPT port serves as the largest container handling port of India. It is situated in Mumbai and faces the Arabian Sea, creating several trade routes to various parts of the world. It handles over 55% of the nation’s containers and has several new terminals in an effort to expand shipping. It is operated by the JNPT Port Trust and is owned by the Government of India. It primarily handles goods coming in from the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. It has state of the art facilities that are being expanded to allow for larger ship handling capacities.
7. Jeddah Islamic Port, Saudi Arabia
TEU traffic in 2018: 4.1 million
Global TEU traffic-based ranking: 36
The Jeddah Islamic Port is one of the major ports of the Middle Eastern region and is second to only the Port of Jebel Ali in Dubai when it comes to passenger and container traffic through the region. Jeddah is an important city located near the Red Sea and handles traffic from the major ports of the Western hemisphere, Africa, and Europe. It handles 65% of Saudi’s imports and is one of the most developed ports in the world. It works alongside the terminus of Dammam as part of the Saudi Landbridge Project.
8. Salalah Port, Oman
TEU traffic in 2018: 3.4 million
Global TEU traffic-based ranking: 46
Located on the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean region, the Port of Salalah handles a large part of the container traffic that enters this sector. It supports the East African, Indian, and Middle Eastern ports and serves over 2.5 billion consumers. The port is operated by the Salalah Port Services Company and is jointly owned by the Government of Oman, APM terminals, and other Omani ventures. It operates general cargo and container terminals that can berth ships of various sizes and classes.
9. Helsinki Port, Finland
Passenger traffic: 12.2 million
Although the Port of Helsinki is not a major cargo and container transport hub, it is the busiest passenger port on the globe. It also doubles as the primary port in Finland that deals in trade with other countries. The port sees an annual footfall in excess of 12 million people and is frequented by cruise liners. In 2017, it overtook the Dover port to become the busiest passenger port. In addition, it exports over 14.7 million tons worth of goods.
The port is operated by the Port of Helsinki Ltd. It is divided into three operational harbours to divide traffic and prevent congestion, namely the South Harbour, the West harbour, and the Vuosaari harbour. The South harbour mainly caters to the cruise ship and liner passengers. The West harbour serves as a cargo and passenger port. The Vuosaari harbour handles container ships and Ro-Ro traffic.
10. Dover Port, England
Passenger traffic: 11.7 million
The Port of Dover is located at Kent in England and is in close proximity to the French coast. It was the busiest port in the world, prior to 2017, although it still experiences large passenger volumes. There is an average of 11.7 million passengers passing through this port every year. It is owned and operated by the Dover Harbor Board that oversees regulations and expansion work on the port. It falls under the Department of Transport and has a special police force intended to maintain security.
For ease of usage, the port is divided into the Eastern and Western docks that are situated at a distance of 1 km. The Eastern docks deal with ferries and freight transport. It also has a freight handling terminal. The Western docks primarily serve cruise liners and other passenger vessels. It was a hoverport (the port for hovercraft) prior to being demolished for renovation work. A section of the North docks is now open to the public as a boating harbour.
You might also like to read:
- 11 Major Container Terminal Operators In The World
- Watch: How Container Shipping Works – The Process Of Transporting Cargo In Containers
- What Are Different Types of Ports For Ships?
- Types of Container Terminals On The Basis of Ownership
- What is Container Depot – Purpose And Design
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Ajay Menon is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, with an integrated major in Ocean Engineering and Naval Architecture. Besides writing, he balances chess and works out tunes on his keyboard during his free time.